The FA Cup kicked off with the early BT Sport coverage of League One Rochdale and our very own Newcastle United. And it would be more of the same, unfortunately, for the Magpies.
And United made the perfect start to a game they dominated throughout the first half. Great work from the outstanding Atsu saw him glide past one player before offering a cut back to Almiron who obliged with one touch out of his feet before lashing home from 12 yards on 17 minutes.
Chances for Muto and Joelinton could have put the tie out of sight before the break but Rochdale hung on to keep things alive at just 1-0 at the whistle.
It was a different story in the second half however. Rochdale came out with purpose and a hunger they had not shown int he first.
Even before the equaliser they had chances. Dubravka called into action on two occasion, the second only pushing the ball into the path of the Rochdale captain who hit the post from a tight angle.
The equaliser was scruffy but clinical. A good run from Matherson ended with a cross to substitute Wilbraham who rode his luck before stabbing home to send the home crowd into ecstasy.
After a first half where United looked worlds away from the League One side, the result was undoubtedly a fair one.
A replay then for Bruce and his men. Not what was needed after another morale and energy sapping performance.
United had suffered time and time again at the hands of lower league teams in the FA Cup but Steve Bruce again pointed to his run to the Cup Final with Hull a few seasons back as how important he feels the competition is to him personally.
Rochdale, 18th in League One, and just 7 points behind ‘that lot down the road had nothing to lose. To make it to this round they needed a replay against Boston and only made it through following a late penalty to break the hearts of National League North side.
Rochdale average a home crowd of just 3,700 but a sell out crowd of over 10,000 crammed into watch this one.
Steve Bruce said he would go with his strongest available team, and he didn’t lie. Indeed it’s hard to argue that he could have chosen a stronger side given the current injury list.
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Yedlin, Krafth, Fernandez, Hayden, S Longstaff, M Longstaff, Atsu, Almiron (Ritchie, 63), Muto (Ki, 53), Joelinton
As for the injury list Newcastle United are currently top of the table, the injury table, with 11 players currently fighting for a place on the treatment bench.
Willems - Groin
Schar - Thigh
Saint-Maximin - Thigh
Dummett - Groin
Lascelles - Shin
Carroll - Knock
Clark - Shin
Manquillo - Thigh
Shelvey - Thigh
Colback - Knee
In playing his strongest team the game did offer a great opportunity to build some much needed confidence and perhaps a goal or two for the misfiring front line.
Newcastle lined up with three at the back with Krafth and Hayden on the right and left of Fernandez respectively.
And United would start well, with some heart passing and the sort of space they rarely get in the Premier League, allowing the likes of Atsu and Almiron to show that little bit of class you’d expect against lower opposition.
The first shot in anger for United was from Matty Longstaff, after more great work by Atsu on the left. The younger Longstaff finding a way to get the ball onto his left in a crowded area but seeing his shot deflected over for a corner.
United got the breakthrough on after just 18 minutes. Atsu once more the chief protagonist with a lovely bit of skill and cut back to Almiron who pushed the ball out of his feet, 12 yards from the goal, and lashed a left foot effort into the roof of the net.
And it should have been 2-0 on 23 minutes when Joelinton was allowed to run at the centre back following a mistake by Rochdale. But having done the hard work and creating room for a shot, his left foot effort was dragged three feet wider of the keepers right hand post.
United next spurned the chance to double their lead on 38 minutes, this time Muto hammering the ball straight at Sanchez from 6 yards out after some great work from Yedlin down the right hand side.
Just before the break there would another big chance for Newcastle after a smart turn and shot from an otherwise frustrated Joelinton would force the Rochdale keeper into a smart stop.
1-0 at half time. United in complete control.
Into the second half and it was more of the same early on, United dominating possession and knocking at the door in search for a second goal. But Rochdale would at least start of create at the other end and it wouldn’t be long before the tie would turn on it’s head.
First an effort from Rathbone with a lovely bit of skill before his superb effort had to be well saved by Dubravka.
Moments later Rochdale came even closer. Rathbone again with the drive and when Dubravka could only palm wide it allowed Ian Henderson to try and fire home but his effort hit the outside of the post and wide.
Another warning for Newcastle to step up again.
There would be half chances for Joelinton, who saw a header deflected onto a post, and Ki from distance as United started to exert their dominance back on the game, but Rochdale had obviously decided it was time to throw caution to the wind.
Next it was Matherson to set up Rathbone who’s first touch was brilliant to leave the entire Newcastle backline standing, but with only Dubravka to beat his shot was close enough to the United stopper to allow a right foot to save and put the ball wide for a Rochdale corner. What a chance!
You can’t say it wasn’t coming, and when Matherson broke down the right with speed and purpose his cross found 40 year old substitute Wilbraham who got a little bit of luck in the box before slamming home with his left from just 4 yards.
No more than the home side deserved in the second half.
For his part, Joelinton was well and truly in the dog house. He being responsible for giving the ball away in a good position before the equaliser and then failing to follow up on a knock down moments later, he was already getting seem stick from his own supporters before both incidents.
There would be no reprieve for Newcastle who would hear the boos at the final whilst from the travelling thousands.
Maybe United have found their level.