What makes Newcastle United unique?
Wins on Saturday for lower league sides Bradford City and Newcastle’s North-East neighbours Middlesbrough against the nation’s top two sides, as well as an impressive if not rather dour goalless draw for League Two Cambridge United against Manchester United on Friday, showed why the FA Cup is so treasured by fans from all levels of football throughout the country.
That is unless you are a Newcastle United fan, of course. The famous ‘magic’ of the FA Cup has long been absent from our exploits in the competition – with the exception perhaps of the wonderful goal scored by the since-ostracised Hatem Ben Arfa against Blackburn in the 3rd round in 2012.
The net result being many a weekend like this one, spent apathetically watching the football hoping to at least witness the cup sprinkle a little of the aforementioned ‘magic’ and conjure up one of its annual upsets.
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There was an unpromising lack of expectation back in the 3rdround as we travelled to Leicester City, a side currently scrapping for survival at the foot of the Premier League table. For me, the script was all but written as soon as the draw was made: we would go to the King Power Stadium, play a weakened side, never really have a go and, rather predictably, exit the competition at the first hurdle.
Broadcasters were so disinterested in the fixture that no live television coverage was available – even on international networks – meaning all that those of us who couldn’t make it down to Leicester for the game got to see was the ‘highlight reel’ offered by Match of the Day that evening. Blink and you would have missed it; this extensive selection of highlights was made up of the one solitary goal scored by our victorious opposition – who, if radio and text commentary on the game was anything to go by, could not claim to have been anything more than average on the day – and a perfectly good goal from Rémy Cabella which was disallowed for offside.
However, the distinct lack of response both to this contestable decision and to the goal we then went on to concede, was typical of our recent approach to the cup competitions.Even non-league Blyth Spartans looked more likely than us, their Premier League neighbours, to make it into this year’s fourth round, valiantly falling to Championship opposition in Birmingham City after holding a 2-0 lead at half time.
Despite common misconceptions around the country about the expectations carried by Newcastle fans, none of us expect to win a trophy any time in the near future. If we were to exit in the early stages after giving our all against a team who were ultimately better than us on the day, there would not be too many who would complain.
This year’s Capital One Cup run, which saw us put in a couple of superb performances and reach the Quarter Final of the competition,was refreshing to see, but the manner in which we exited the competition at Spurs – albeitwith some key players missing – was extremely disappointing, and we have now been knocked out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round for the 3rdyear running.
As much as it frustrates me to see Alan Pardew leading Crystal Palace to the 5th round with a 3-2 win away at Southampton after having displayed such a poor record for us in the FA Cup, he cannot be blamed – at least not solely – for our failure to take the competition seriously.
John Carver was, after all, the man in the dugout for this year’s 3rd round defeat. The problem is unfortunately much deeper rooted. It is difficult to pinpoint where it is going wrong for us year after year (***Read this great article from Sunday suggesting exactly why Mike Ashley runs the club the way he does AND especially why the Cups are meaningless to him), but the desire and passion, to use a cliché that is regularly thrown around the terraces these days, is just not there anymore.
Gone are the days of seeing Rob Lee steaming in at Wembley to bullet home a perfect Shearer cross in the FA Cup semi-final, and on current evidence they will not be returning any time soon. There was always talk that Pardew received instructions from above that he was not to take the cup competitions seriously, so as to avoid jeopardising a solid mid-table Premier League finish, something that we all know to be far more lucrative – and therefore far more important – than a domestic cup run.
What defies this logic is that last season, having already exited the two cups in the 3rdand 4throunds respectively, we then sold our best player, failed to replace him and saw our season spiral into freefall.
This time, with no ‘Head Coach’ currently in place and rumours still circulating regarding potential bids for our prized assets, the club needs to make sure that its fight to secure this year’s respectable mid-table finish does not turn into another relegation scrap as the season trundles on.