How refreshingly Rafa-licious
Newcastle 3 Birmingham 1 – Wednesday 18 January 2017 7.45pm
FA Cup 3rd Round Replay
It’s been a relentless stream of misery has the FA Cup.
Since Birmingham’s visit here to destroy us 5-1 in this competition a decade ago, it has provided one single moment of enjoyment for me: Hatem Ben Arfa’s goal against Blackburn in 2012.
In those intermittent years it has also come to be representative of the club’s lack of ambition and the regime’s disdain for the fans; discarded as it was year on year, and at the first time of asking over the past four seasons.
How refreshingly Rafa-licious then, to be talking about this game right now. A smashing evening’s entertainment for a mere tenner in front of a very respectable 35k attendance with three youngsters debuting in a solid win that puts us in for a winnable fourth round tie. I’m not getting my hopes up with chatter and natter of Wembley and suchlike, but it lifted my little heart a bit did this display and I apologise not for that.
It was interesting to get a look at the youngsters but with due respect the show was well and truly stolen by one man. The returning Shelvey was at his clinical best, controlling everything Newcastle created. His early through ball for lone frontman Gouffran allowed the Frenchman to round the Blues goalie, who swiftly brought him down. Clear penalty and a yellow, fair enough. Ritchie walloped the penner down the middle and you’d hope that was the scene set for trouble free progress.
The first half was a terrific mix of a bit of exploratory game time for the new boys, some solid performances from our more established lot and Cheick Tiote kicking people.
Stuart Findlay’s debut at centre half was made easier by a commanding display from Grant Hanley alongside him, with the Scotsman at the heart of repelling what little threat Brum offered going forward. Yasin Ben El-Mhanni probed away for his 70 minute stint and got a stark introduction to first team football, at one point receiving a borderline power slam from Paul Robinson, and Dan Barlaser had probably the most influence of the three, occasionally losing possession in the middle of the park but showing no fear at getting forward in amongst it.
Barlaser had a great chance before half time to put the game to bed as Ritchie crashed a curling shot off the post, with the rebound falling invitingly for the young debutant, with the visiting defence all over the place. Barlaser couldn’t quite dig the right shot out and ended up scooping the ball wide.
By this point United were two goals to the good after a magnificent effort from Gouffran, who led the line admirably in the absence of our more established strikers. With his back to goal and two defenders in close attendance, Gouff chipped the ball up, turned and shot past Legzdins for the best FA Cup goal seen here since HBA roared at Blackburn. With the two goal cushion intact at half time, there was a feeling this might be safe, surely Birmingham didn’t want extra time any more than we did?
The second half was equally as comfortable to a point as United exerted a spell of pressure that should have returned a killer third goal. Legzdins handball outside the area, Shelvey’s vicious thunderbolt and half chances for Barlaser and Ritchie came and went, alongside the obligatory row Z effort from Tiote.
Then on 70 minutes we really did get the most dreadful shock.
Birmingham’s job at this point was to keep their head down, be beaten and all get to bed before midnight thank you very much, but Zola unsportingly introduced star player Jutkiewicz and bugger me if they didn’t start trying!
It was his knockdown that was mishit fortuitously over the diving Sels by David Cotterill to halve the deficit and spark real fears of an energy sapping extra half hour. Brum really went for it for the next quarter of an hour but Rafa steadied the ship with the introduction of Hayden, Colback and Perez and the momentum eventually faded.
There was still a moment in added time for United to add a fairer slant on the score line, as Shelvey waltzed through the Blues defence before cutting back an unmissable centre for his third assist and Ritchie’s second goal. Unfortunately, this came too late to find the fourth that would have given me a chance at a free burrito in Zapatista’s guess the score competition, but this was a great night and I mustn’t grumble.
Right, on to Oxford then.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 3 Birmingham 1
Newcastle: Ritchie 9 (pen), 90+2, Gouffran 34
Birmingham: Cotterill 71
Possession was Birmingham 48% Newcastle 52%
Total shots were Birmingham 12 Newcastle 13
Shots on target were Birmingham 1 Newcastle 4
Corners were Birmingham 5 Newcastle 6
Referee: Lee Probert
Sels, Yedlin (Hayden 75), Hanley, Findlay, Lazaar, Tiote (Colback 82), Barlaser, Ritchie, Shelvey, El-Mhanni (Perez 70), Gouffran
Elliot, Murphy, Dummett, Lascelles
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