Oxford United 2-3 Newcastle United (AET)
An FA Cup replay, at League One opposition, on a cold Tuesday night at the Kassam Stadium. This is what Cup football is all about. And whilst this was (almost) everything the BBC and any neutral watching could have wished for, it was the usual nail biting affair for those in black and white.
A place in the last 16, away to West Brom, was the prize up for grabs and it was Newcastle United who looked in full control at half-time, 2-0, in front of 1,800 travelling fans and owner Mike Ashley.
The first was a cracker from Sean Longstaff, having been set up by Joelinton before smashing a wonderful shot into the top right hand corner. And it was roles reversed for the second goal, with Sean setting Joelinton clear of the Oxford back line to slot past Eastwood. A great finish.
But wouldn't you just know it. Two goals in the last 10 minutes (one in the 4th minute of injury time) dragged the tie back level. Both goals the result of set plays, with one a wonderful free-kick from Kelly and the other a half clearance volleyed home by Holland.
Newcastle guilty of throwing away a game in normal time that was all but won.
The momentum now fully with Oxford, the home crowd whipped into a frenzy, and it was they who started the better in extra-time. Newcastle just needed to hang on and find a moment of class.
And a moment of genius is exactly what they got. With just three minutes of the game left, Allan Saint-Maximin picked up the ball just inside the Oxford half and headed straight for goal. Twice he stepped inside chasing defenders before unleashing a stunner into the top corner. Goal of the game and just the moment the Magpies needed to send them into the 5th round for the first time in 14 years.
Winning an FA Cup tie against a League One side should never have been this hard.
For United, there was the intention to rest for key players including Saint-Maximin, Clark, Fernandez and tellingly Martin Dubravka. Also absent were Danny Rose and Valentino Lazaro who were both registered too late for the first game to allow them to play in this.
STARTING XI: Darlow, Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune (Clark, 95), Ritchie, Bentaleb (Atsu, 102), M Longstaff, S Longstaff, Almiron (Hayden, 90), Joelinton (Saint-Maximin, 37)
A chance for a much needed boost in a game that should, on paper at least, afford United the luxury to dominate a game and show their class for once. Bruce, of course, coming under intense scrutiny over previous days for the continued level of performances in the Premier League having most recently been played off St James Park by bottom side Norwich at the weekend.
The early exchanges set the pattern for the game, Almiron looking to effect the game with his pace whilst Oxford looking content to soak up the pressure and look to work chances on the break of through set pieces.
And after 16 minutes the breakthrough would go to the Magpies. Some neat work by Almiron to break free of the midfield and feed Joelinton on the left who was able to square the ball to Sean Longstaff. Whilst Sean’s first touch may not have been the best allowing a host of defenders to close him down, he still managed to find the room and composure to fire an unstoppable shot into the top right corner, giving Eastwood absolutely no chance in the Oxford goal.
Just 60 seconds later it should have been 2-0. Newcastle breaking down possession and releasing Bentaleb who played a delicious cross right across the box for only for Joelinton to somehow fire high and wide from 6 yards out. A huge chance after a wonderful cross.
Newcastle well on top just needed to take a little more care of the football as there were clear signs even this early in the game that there was space to be found if they could move the ball quick enough with the quality you’d expect of a Premier League side.
On 29 minutes it was 2-0 to the Magpies. This time, after a little bit of pressure from Oxford there was a challenge from Almiron that had most in the ground appealing for a foul, but with the ref waiving play on Sean Longstaff cracked a ball from the edge of his own box behind the Oxford defence, Joelinton did the rest. The Brazilian racing clear of the Oxford back line, drawing the keeper out, before side footing confidently home for his third of the season.
Oxford almost found an immediate response. First Mackie with a great hit bringing the very best from Darlow with a wonderful reaction save, the recycled ball then falling to to Browne who’s hit beat the Newcastle stopper only for Lascelles to produce a diving header that saved a certain goal.
The game couldn’t have been more open now. Both sides creating glaring chances, Holland hitting his own player when looking nailed on to score from 6 yards out before Almiron raced clear at the other end only to toe poke wide.
The injury curse, of course, had already hit by the half hour. Joelinton, who’d been down holding his side even before his goal, eventually having to be withdrawn and replaced by Saint-Maximin. The Magpies without a fit striker at the club as a result and losing their way up front without any focal point to play to.
The game had descended in to a proper cup tie, with panic setting in at both ends of the pitch every time the ball was moved to one penalty area or the other. The next goal was always going to be critical.
2-0 to Newcastle at half time.
Into the second half and it was more of the same from both sides. Oxford pushing hard to find a way through but, in doing so, leaving space for the Magpies to exploit.
Big shouts for a penalty on 51 minutes when Miggy Almiron was tripped just inside the 18 yard box. The referee correctly, in our view, judging the trip was entirely accidental and no more than a ‘coming together’ (given the hand gestures from Peter Bankes).
Newcastle, continuing to put in the graft, were looking like they may just nullify the Oxford pressure. The home side looking like they were starting to run out of ideas. Almiron and Bentaleb looking a class apart in midfield. Lascelles strong and inspirational at the back. Or so it seemed!
As the clock ticked down Oxford had no choice but to throw everything at it and leave gaps at the other end. Another goal was coming.
And wouldn’t you just know it. With 6 minutes on the clock Ritchie felled Agyei 25 yards from Darlow’s goal. Up stepped Liam Kelly to fire a great free kick in off the post to get one back for the hosts.
The Kassam now rocking!
It should have been game over on 89 minutes. Almiron again breaking forward and finding Saint-Maximin who twisted and turned before setting up Sean Longstaff. But this time Longstaff snr could not repeat his first half magic, dragging his shot across goal and wide.
At the other end Oxford were turning the screw. Ruffles somehow leaning back and side footing an effort over the bar when it looked easier to score.
Would there be time to find one more big chance for the home side? Of course there would!
With 93 minutes on the clock, and every Oxford player in the box, including their keeper, the ball fell to Holland who hit a volley, from the corner of the box, beyond the outstretched arm of Darlow. Another brilliant hit.
And into extra-time!
And it was all Oxford in the first period of extra-time, with the tome side playing all the football and the Magpies doing little more than humping the ball forward for the most part.
At least Atsu looked lively after coming on, although wasting one chance in the first period of extra-time and seeing one in the second period deflected wide was as close as he would get.
Allan Saint-Maximin would then create a chance for himself although his shot was comfortable saved by Eastwood as legs on both sides tired.
Oxford continuing to pile bodies forward at every opportunity however meant the probability of another big chance being created was almost certain.
And that chance should have been for Newcastle with Saint-Maximin feeding Atsu who inexplicably tried to play in Yedlin with the goal gaping.
Perhaps the Frenchman would be better just doing it on his own.
Oh... go on then!
Saint-Maximin picking up the ball virtually on the half way line before sprinting towards the Oxford box, stepping inside two tackles and unleashing a thunderbolt beyond the Oxford keeper. What a goal.
3-2 Newcastle United with 3 minutes left, but this time Newcastle held on.
Once more a performance bereft of quality. Once more a performance riddled with spirit. Again, a result that flattered and one that every Newcastle fan will take with both hands.
So, the 5th round for the first time in 14 years. Crackers!
Newcastle now take a break to regroup and ideally get some bodies back from injury during their 10 day Winter Break. Off to Marbella they go, into hiding quite possibly.