This was the first time I felt truly sad about the whole behind closed doors thing
Quick point before we get onto the FA Cup and Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2: going into this weekend, NUFC’s chances of relegation were something approaching nowt.
There are four disjointed, struggling teams directly above Norwich, three of whom would need to win four of their remaining seven games while we set off on a Pardewesque string of consecutive defeats to slide beneath them.
Prioritising the league was not a thing anymore and anyone suggesting it should be, had been drinking too much daft juice during lockdown, and urgently needed Boris to announce the reopening of the local Heid Wobbling shop.
So, it needed to be everything chucked at the cup, with the newly deposed former champions still an ominous hurdle to clear for the dizzying concept of a semi final.
People pointed out the encouraging absences of Aguero and Fernandinho, but by my reckoning you’d need about 17 injuries and suspensions to feel truly confident going in against this lot.
This was the first time I felt truly sad about the whole behind closed doors thing.
You don’t need me to tell you that had this been under normal circumstances, the place would have been absolutely buzzing, as for the first time in years we got to experience a genuine big game atmosphere that wasn’t anything to do with dodging between the Premier League and the Championship. But life has taken a funny turn for all this year and we just had to hope this match would be another statistic in the unpredictability of 2020.
Unfortunately, what unfolded turned out to be horrifyingly predictable.
The first half was a sickening procession of City dominance, with the dayglo orange and yellow shirts consistently scattered around the edge of Newcastle’s packed penalty area like the world’s most ominous sunrise. The only saving grace seemed to be City’s wayward shooting, with efforts getting belted high, wide, across goal and towards desperate United defenders, who seemed to be following a routine, of controlling the ball, panicking, then passing to a nearby teammate who would blooter it away, from where the visitors would launch another attack due to Newcastle’s entire team being penned into their own box.
This was either going to go one way or the other. Either this rearguard action would work miraculously and we would pull of one of those ridiculous wins with 19% possession and get absolutely torn apart by the media for being jammy, or City would eventually take a chance and the game would be an embarrassing defeat where we haven’t even tried to win, and get absolutely torn apart by the media for being negative.
Even though we thoroughly deserved to be behind at the time, the opener was still a bit infuriating. Kyle Walker’s cross was slightly over hit and dealt with comfortably by Manquillo, but as it sailed over Gabriel Jesus’ head, Schar felt the need to repeatedly push him like a bloke kicking off in a taxi queue, with Jesus going down at the second time of asking. No excuse, soft penalty. Darlow has a decent record at spot kicks but apparent future Magpie Kevin De Bruyne was in no mood to be missing on his birthday.
You have to wonder if Schar would have felt so edgy with a full house backing him, or if the fans could have encouraged the rearguard action to develop into some form of (gosh) attack, but the empty ground just made for a training game atmosphere, where the vastly superior team wins easily.
At half time the semi final draw was made, with a reminder that the persistent cup winners of the past few decades were all still there. The Manchesters, Chelsea and Arsenal have won 23/28 FA Cups in the Premier League era, and the prospect of us rallying to beat three of them was laughable. Best let the silent cup final just be between the usual suspects eh?
A good job it was a lost cause, because when a thoroughly jaded Saint-Maximin managed to get himself into gear and produce an astounding run and cross, substitute Dwight Gayle contrived to put an easy, definite, open goal of an equaliser into the stands from about no yards out. Within two minutes of this shocker, Sterling had curled in number two. Game over.
The fact that Saint-Maximin looked knackered and the defence a bit wild eyed, could have had something to do with the key players all being used in every match post-lockdown. Galling though it would have been to lose to Villa, I think that match should have been treated as the less important of the week and used for a spot of rotation.
To take the positives, this public embarrassment at least highlights the shortcomings at Newcastle.
To be fair to Bruce, if he had finished in the top half and won the bloody cup, it would have been difficult to bin him off, but a few more of this kind of sorry display on our way to a steady 14th place and even the most defensive areas of the media will concede that we need a considerable overhaul if our ambitions are to be raised.
The takeover now remains the only show in toon, as the cup distraction ends for another, er few months, and the league situation is all but resolved. This club is in a desperate state of limbo, as pointed out during the match coverage by Shearer and Bruce himself, and the display in this match shows how far adrift we are from the type of club we hope to emulate.
The desperation to see an end to the Ashley era and a renaissance under some real big hitters is becoming unbearable now, as the rumours, non-stories and endless weeks of silence from the Premier League continues to add an unwelcome layer of misery to an already difficult time. We can only continue to wait and hope that the next time we dally with the FA Cup it will be with serious intent, in front of a full ground of happy faces. Stay safe everyone.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2 – Sunday 28 June 6.30pm
De Bruyne 37 pen, Sterling 68
(Half-time stats are in brackets)
Possession was Man City 76% (82%) Newcastle 24% (18%)
Total shots were Man City 20 (15) Newcastle 4 (2)
Shots on target were Man City 4 (3) Newcastle 1 (1)
Corners were Man City 8 (4) Newcastle 0 (0)
Referee: Lee Mason
Darlow, Manquillo, Schar, Fernandez, Lascelles, Rose (Lazaro 75), Hayden (Matty Longstaff 79), Sean Longstaff, Almiron (Joelinton 65), Carroll (Gayle 65), Saint-Maximin (Yedlin 74)
Dúbravka, Shelvey, Muto, Krafth
(Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2 – Match ratings and comments – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2 – Match was lost with team selection v Villa not Dwight Gayle miss – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Sunday’s defeat – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2 – Watch official match highlights HERE including both goals)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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