Smell of euphoria almost tangible amongst odour of Fanta and McDonalds-tinted farts
Newcastle 6 Preston 0 – Tuesday 25 October
I have one particularly miserable memory of the recent wilderness years.
Picture if you must, that sh*tty weekend in early January when Christmas officially, bona fide ends and you’re skint, fat and miserable. The FA cup enters our lives, and for several years on the bounce would leave it too.
In the early days of 2014 a heartless surrender to Cardiff at home, allowing a lead to slip to lose 2-1 in the pi**ing rain, was about as low as I can remember feeling. The game and the mood was awful, but the worst part for me was seeing my mate Eddie trudging out in the dying moments, with his two little girls by his side, looking utterly demoralised.
Their first ever experience of a Newcastle match had been completely Pardewed, as the gutless manager did his master’s bidding and adhered to the cups as a non-priority strategy. I was as angry at the potential loss of two young fans, and surely many more that day, as I was at the loss of another cup opportunity.
Fast forward to the incredible spectacle of Tuesday night and it tells you everything about how valuable the amazing Rafa Benitez has been to our club. His forcing a different vision upon the owner has resulted in a scenario where the thousands of young kids who attended tonight for a mere £3 will have left exhilarated, blown away and completely and utterly hooked. An astounding 49 thousand crowd was duly rewarded with a one-sided performance of triumphant brilliance and I actually cannot believe how bloody amazing the vibe around the club is right now.
Anyway, the game went a bit like this:
After looking steadily in charge from the off, it took twenty minutes for United to open the scoring, with a frighteningly unmarked Mitrovic taking his chance at a starting berth by powerfully heading in Ritchie’s truly beautiful free kick.
Any fears of in-form Preston romping back were quickly extinguished, as they were reduced to ten men when Alan Browne took Jack Colback out of the game with a vicious elbow, earning him a straight red and prompting pondering as to how important his suspension might be for Saturday’s rematch. The answer is not very, as fears emerged that North End’s much changed side (9 changes) were sent out to batter United about ahead of the immediate rematch at Deepdale. This was particularly worrying as Colback’s replacement was the crucial Shelvey, which seemed a bit of a gamble given that the game had swung our way.
I honestly don’t think the dismissal made a difference, as the home side were set to stun regardless, and I doubt that Browne’s presence would have stopped Mo Diame from lashing a piledriver into the bottom corner on the run for his first goal for the club.
Hopefully this will instil a bit of confidence in a player who has blown hot and cold since his summer signing. This was perfectly illustrated moments later as a poor clearance from former Man Utd goalie Lindegaard went straight to Mitrovic, who advanced and unselfishly squared the ball for a certain third. With Atsu waiting to tap in behind him, Diame contrived to bafflingly manage to scoop the ball past the left hand post of the gaping goal. Atsu looked all kinds of pi**ed off.
The second half opened with constant pressure, which ultimately boiled over in Ritchie being bundled over on a mazy run into the box. He picked himself up and swiftly shoved the ball up his jersey, much to the consternation of Mitrovic who followed the Scot to the penalty spot pleading to be given the kick.
This unsavoury episode spilt over into a bit of temper from Mitro and hopefully Rafa will have a little word as to who takes what and when, before an occurrence like this happens at a more important moment. It should probably be Ritchie all the way though on pens, the way he dispatched this one into the roof of the net though, unstoppable.
Now, it was surely game over and the sensible course of action would be to hold something in the tank for…Deepdale, goal difference not being a factor in the cup of course. United instead decided to just go hell for leather, with Mitro a man possessed after his non-involvement in the spot kick. It seemed certain he was going to mess up his shooting chance as he dribbled round two Preston defenders before finishing smartly inside the near post.
Unfortunately, the Serb showed further signs of ill-discipline in committing the pointless act of tearing his shirt off in celebration to earn the obligatory booking. In the heat of an exuberant performance like this it seems inconsequential, but things like this and Diame’s miss can prove costly in closer games (which are surely due in this competition given the narrowing field) and will not have gone unnoticed by Rafa.
With the game completely safe there was still no let up in the expansive, attacking football from United. Atsu must have gone home wondering exactly how the hell he didn’t make the scoresheet, thundering a curling shot and a power header against the woodwork to go with the one Diame took off his toes.
To add a bit of colour to proceedings, Preston weighed in with their first shot on target, a powerful header from a rare corner that the underemployed Matz Sels did very well to keep out at full stretch.
Brilliantly, there was just reward again for those that choose/manage to stay in their seats for the full duration of the 90 minutes. With the clock running out, Diame unleashed a magnificent 30 yard strike that beat Lindegaard all ends up. With Mitrovic forcing the issue in pursuit of a hat-trick, an added time corner was only cleared as far as substitute Ayoze Perez, who stroked it in from the edge of the box.
Of course there is the issue of “football’s a funny old game” and we have the same opponents on Saturday, albeit on their turf with a likely quite different line up. It wouldn’t be the most ridiculous thing that ever happened if they went and continued their strong league form as revenge for this hiding (remember our last 6-0 (watch all the goals and highlights here) midweek victory was followed by an unimpressive weekend defeat).
Tonight though, was all about the cup. The smell of euphoria was almost tangible amongst the gaggle of kids behind me, from what I could make out between the odour of Fanta and McDonalds-tinted farts.
Although the quarter final line-up still suggests thoughts of lifting this cup are fanciful, it has been a fantastic exercise in supplementing the league progress, as well as strengthening the use of the squad and, crucially for the future, a statement of intent of the approach to cup competitions.
The near capacity crowd of happy smiling faces provided a stark contrast to the Pardew-era trudge of disillusioned children, and the mind boggles as to how many people will want to be in this ground if things continue to move forward so encouragingly.
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle: Mitrovic 19, 55 Diame 38, 87, Ritchie (Pen) 53, Perez 90+1
Possession was Preston 34% Newcastle 66%
Total shots were Preston 1 Newcastle 25
Shots on target were Preston 1 Newcastle 13
Corners were Preston 2 Newcastle 9
Newcastle starting 11:
Sels, Yedlin, Hanley, Mbemba, Dummett (Anita 58), Ritchie (Perez 75), Hayden, Colback (Shelvey 32), Atsu, Diame, Mitrovic
Clark, Gayle, Darlow, Gouffran
Referee: Andy Madley
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