Newcastle United went into tonights match against an inform Preston North end side looking for a place in the QF of the EFL cup.
PNE have been in fine form of late, most recently knocking Huddersfield out of the top two in the league before allowing Newcastle to go 3 points clear at the top by beating Norwich at Carrow Road. No easy task then even if there were changes on both sides from what would be expected for a League game (I guess we'll see on Saturday).
Rafa, for his part, would make a host of changes to what most would recognise as his first team.
STARTING XI: Sels, Yedlin, Mbemba, Hanley, Dummett (Anita, 58), Ritchie (Perez, 74), Hayden, Colback (Shelvey, 32), Atsu, Diame, Mitrovic
Most notably perhaps was a starting birth for Mitrovic in front of a huge crowd of 49,042, and it was Newcastle who would start the better of the two sides, although it would take 15 minutes to Newcastle to turn their early dominance into a meaningful chance. A centre from Hayden would be cleared straight back to Newcastle’s number 14 but as he cut into form the right hand side of the box and fired a curling effort past the Preston keeper he would have to watch on in agony as his effort would cannon straight back past him after hitting the left hand upright.
On 20 minutes though, the breakthrough, and it would be crown favourite who would get it. A free kick from Ritchie 25 yards from goal and against the left touchline would find our big Serb to rise unchallenged on the penalty spot to head his second goal of the season. An easy but cracking header.
On 24 minutes Alan Browne would be dismissed after a hosendous challenge on Jack Colback. Andy Madley was left in no doubt after the Preston midfielder led with his arm and elbow straight into the face of our lad. A cowardly and quite disgusting challenge and rightly a straight red.
With Preston down to 10 and Colback heading down the tunnel for stitches Newcastle could have extended their lead when a cross after good work from Dummett would be fired wide from 20 yards from Atsu.
It would be decided that Colback would not be fit to continue and would be replaced by Jojo Shelvey. Sorry Preston, but that’s your own stupid fault.
And on 38 minutes Newcastle would double their lead. With the Mags breaking forward in numbers with Mo Diame then finally break his duck with a fantastic strike from 30 yards past a helpless Lindergaard. There was nothing the PNE keeper could do about this one with the ball nestling in the bottom left corner.
On 41 minutes Diame had the most glorious chance to make it 3-0 but from 12 yards out he managed to miss an open goal. A horrible backless was seized upon by MItrovic and with the goalkeeper rushing out to narrow the angle Mitro would square the ball to Diame who, totally unmarked and with the goal gaping, would manage to put this effort at least 15 yards wide of the left post. Unbelievable Jeff!
Diame would try his luck again just before the half time whistle when his cheeky chip would just clear the bar after Mo had cleared both a defender and the keeper form a seemingly impossible angle.
And it would be more of the same second half.
And by 53 minutes it would be 3-0. With Ritchie felled in the box by Wright it was penalty time. Despite the protestations of Mitrovic it was Ritchie who would tuck the spot kick away, smashing it down the middle and pouring the agony onto Preston.
MItro however would not be outdone, and within a minute of the restart it www 4. A great deep cross from Hayden would find the big Serb, but instead of heading at goal he took the ball down on his chest, rounded two defenders before side stepping the keeper in a crowded box to slam home. Que the shirt off, yellow card inducing, madness of a celebration. Top mad man!!
Next a cross shot from Atsu would beat the keeper once more but again the post would save Preston from more embarrassment.
A stunning cross form Shelvey from the Newcastle left was met by Mitro again on 76 minutes but the big mans header would drop agonisingly wide. And moments later a cross from Yedlin was met by Atsu just 4 yards out but this time it would be the bar not the post that was left rattling. That’s three strikes of the woodwork.
Anita then brought an unbelievable save from Bialkowski, if you can call the ball smashing you in the face and lifting over the bar a save.
The Mags would make it 5-0 on 85 minutes, Diame again, having run from the half way line and with defender for company and seemingly not a great deal of options, he would pull the trigger this time from probably 25 yards to almost place his strike in the bottom right corner.
With only two minutes of injury time to be played you’d think that would be enough for Preston, but not for Newcastle. The ball on this occasion would fall to Perez unmarked 8 yards out, and cool as you like his side foot would would find the net again.
A great night for everyone associated with Newcastle United. Into the QF. And whilst there will be tougher tests ahead and a Final should still be regarded as an impossible dream, under Rafa even the impossible sometimes seems, well, not quite that!!