The Newcastle 3 Luton 1 FA Cup third round match was interesting for a number of reasons.
Obviously a fifth FA Cup win in these 11 years of Mike Ashley’s rule was very welcome, with the dizzy possibility now of a first ever fifth round match under the Fat Controller’s ownership.
Much of that will of course depend on Monday night’s fourth round draw.
The big talking point of course was Rafa picking his first team, with only one or two exceptions.
However, he had already shown he was prepared to take risks in favour of cup competitions at Newcastle, in the right circumstances.
Last November (2016) the Newcastle boss left out a number of key players in the shock Championship home defeat by Blackburn, so he had a strong team to face Hull City three days later in the League Cup quarter-final.
A clear week after the Luton cup-tie made this particular decision a little easier though.
When Jamaal Lascelles was subbed though just after Newcastle opened the scoring we all feared the FA Cup mini-gamble had backfired. However, both Rafa and his captain have both since confirmed that his replacement by Isaac Hayden was simply a precaution and he should be fine to face Swansea on Saturday.
Two more goals quickly followed, Newcastle scoring three in nine minutes, to have a commanding lead at the interval.
However, we once again discovered that a defence without Jamaal Lascelles is nowhere near the same level as when he is on the pitch, as Newcastle conceded a quick goal after the break and then watched on as Luton had another one disallowed and one of Robert Lee’s sons hit the crossbar with Freddie Woodman well beaten.
Speaking of Freddie Woodman. Totally the right decision to give him his competitive debut in this game but his performance will hopefully end any suggestions of throwing the 20 year old into Premier League action just yet. Not surprisingly Woodman looked nervous and a few poor unnecessary back passes didn’t help. Both Darlow and Elliot have shown their weaknesses this season which remind us that neither are Premier League level number ones – but that doesn’t then equal putting in an inexperienced young keeper who needs to go out on loan and get more experience at a lower level, before hopefully one day progressing into the NUFC first team.
The game saw Newcastle the better team but little doubt that if Rafa had played the kind of side most of us were expecting, there probably would have been little in it.
The Shelvey/Merino partnership was given a chance and first half they looked decent as they knocked it about in possession. However, when Luton had a go after the break you have to say that the protection for the back four wasn’t great up the middle of the pitch.
The biggest positive for me was Jacob Murphy. His recent improved performances have certainly helped his confidence and he was the one player who was always ready to run with ball and try to threaten the opposition.
The two Ayoze Perez goals may have been thanks to mistakes and scored from close in but credit to him for his anticipation and taking a gamble, far too often we see Newcastle players on their heels when the ball falls in the box.
A good workout and win but better will be needed in the Premier League and also in the FA Cup if Newcastle’s players are to threaten that £20m bonus Mike Ashley has promised if they lift the trophy.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 3 Luton 1
Goals – Newcastle Perez 30, 36 Shelvey 39
Goals – Luton Hylton 49
Possession was Luton 51% Newcastle 49%
Total shots were Luton 9 Newcastle 25
Shots on target were Luton 2 Newcastle 7
Corners were Luton 7 Newcastle 7
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Woodman, Manquillo, Lascelles (Hayden 31), Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Merino (Saivet 80), Shelvey (Diame 71), Murphy, Perez, Gayle
Darlow, Joselu, Haidara, Aarons
Crowd: 47,069 (Approx 7,500 Luton)
(To read instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the FA Cup win go HERE)
(Go HERE to watch the goals and highlights from Newcastle 3 Luton 1)
(Rafa Benitez analysis of win and update on Jamaal Lascelles injury situation HERE)
(Luton boss Nathan Jones gives his perspective on the match HERE)
(Rafa sets new FA Cup attendance record under Mike Ashley – Read it HERE)