The third round FA Cup win over Luton may not, on first glance, appear to be one of the biggest victories of the season so far for Newcastle United. Understandably perhaps when the main aim for a newly promoted club is to stay up – but it could be one of the more significant in our recent cup history.
Rafa Benitez may have given a debut to hot prospect Freddie Woodman, but otherwise it was a really formidable team, close to our best XI. To play Lascelles and Clark at centre back, our best pairing in my opinion, set the stall out and even though at times we were not at our best, we ran out 3-1 winners. Having that bit of quality over the pitch for ninety minutes makes a real difference, a far better option than having a patched up side half made up of U-23 players. It looked like we were finally going to have a real crack at the competition.
Then we get to the draw and suddenly it looks like the cup dream will have to be shunted once again.
To now be heading to Stamford Bridge for our fourth round tie is hideous luck, and we seem to have had our fair share in recent years, consistently drawing fellow Premier League teams, often away from home. The third round tie against Luton was the first time Newcastle United were drawn at home to lower league opposition in the FA Cup in the last 10 seasons.
Yes, our record in the FA Cup since Ashley first took ownership of the club has been pathetic, though hasn’t exactly helped the chances with easier ties. Not all of it is bad luck but even so a few more home ties would probably help.
On the Third round alone though it is incredible it has taken us so long to get a lower league club at home – 43 of the other clubs (in the third round draw) are from the PL or Championship but even so, that leaves 20 clubs from elsewhere. Home advantage also still plays a big part in the cup. I don’t think we would have lost to Stevenage in 2011 if we were the home team. We finally get an easy tie this year and it is immediately balanced out with Chelsea away in the next round, it’s almost laughable.
Whilst the FA Cup has never been considered a priority with Mike Ashley around (which is well documented), our poor record in recent years can also be traced to the luck of the draw. When looking back at the last time we reached the quarter final (all the way back to Alan Shearer’s final season as a player) for the last time, we had some reasonable luck in the draw and two home ties in one season. We were pulled out of the hat against Mansfield (H), Cheltenham (A), Southampton (H), before running into Chelsea in the quarters. Three lower league teams (Southampton were a Championship club back then) represented a nice run but even that season we failed to have consecutive home ties. For the record, the Cheltenham tie was the last time we have won an FA Cup match away from home. With our overall history in the competition, that statistic is hugely embarrassing.
As far as my memory serves you have to in fact go back to the 2004/05 season for the last time Newcastle United had back-to-back FA Cup ties at home. We actually had three in a row; Coventry, Chelsea and Spurs all came to SJP and were all beaten, teeing up our most recent semi-final appearance, a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Manchester United. I’m not saying we should expect a home draw tie every year, but when you consider it’s a 50/50 chance, the lack of home ties is staggering (only three out of 11 in Mike Ashley era).
It would be interesting to see how Rafa approached the cup if given a relatively good run, he has had success in the competition before and if he is able to get us secure in the Premier League, would surely target the tournament as our best chance of glory.
For comparison, in Wigan Athletic’s historic FA Cup win in 2013, they only faced one fellow top flight team en route to facing Man City in the final. This is not to diminish an incredible achievement, but to point out that you need a bit of luck, if you want to have a good cup run and simultaneously fight relegation.
This is why I will not be shouting at anyone on twitter when the line-ups are revealed for the Chelsea tie this Sunday.
What else can Rafa do, particularly when he has no buys in the transfer window so far.
He can only rotate and aim to save the energies of his better players, particularly considering we have a huge game against Burnley just three days later, a major opportunity for crucial points.
We would all love to see the FA Cup record improved over the next few seasons. So, I am sure, would Benitez.
First of all though he will need a more capable squad and perhaps even more crucially, a bit of luck in the draw. We always have hope though. Just watch us go and knock out Chelsea now!
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