Newcastle United made it to the FA Cup third round with a 3-1 win at home to Luton Town. On the evidence of the first-half, it looked to be a straightforward win for the Premier League side, as they scored three goals and had chances for more. However, the League Two leaders fought back in the second-half and got a goal back through Danny Hylton. They continued to press and caused the home side a lot of problems as the game developed.
Rafa Benitez will be delighted that his team have maintained the positive momentum build up over the Christmas period and they will now go into next weekend’s huge game against Swansea City with confidence that they can win the game. There were nervy moments in the second-half, but the game was won by that point and it may have been a case of the players taking their foot off the gas. Luton can return home with credit and re-focus on earning promotion to League One. Here are three talking points from St James’ Park:
Newcastle need a takeover if they are to challenge for the cups
The Magpies qualified from their tie against Luton Town and made it successive FA Cup third round victories for the first time under Mike Ashley’s ownership. The Sports Direct tycoon has been in power at St James’ Park for over ten years and has made it clear during that time that the cup competitions aren’t a priority. Although there is now more respect paid to them with Rafa Benitez as manager, they are far from being serious contenders to win one.
There have been few pundits mentioning Newcastle as potential winners of the FA Cup this season and that is a huge shame for a team that should be desperate to end their long run without a major trophy. There were over 47,000 supporters at a game against a League Two side, which underlines how much the fans value a cup run, but the view isn’t shared in the board room.
The takeover speculation continues and is likely to run for the first few months of 2018. There is nothing in the pipeline imminently and the club are in a state of flux right now. The current owner no longer has any interest and the manager has no clue what the aims of the club are as a result. Newcastle need a takeover to happen as soon as possible and if one does happen, supporters will be hopeful of challenging for the cups in future seasons.
Luton Town are ready to move back up the Football League
This was always going to be a difficult tie for the League Two leaders, but it served as a good litmus test of where they currently are as a club. They have ambition to move back up the Football League and Saturday showed that there a lot of potential for growth. The Hatters took over 7,000 fans to the North East in one of the largest away followings to St James’ Park in recent seasons.
That can partly be explained by the cup tie, but it also shows that the supporters are buying into what the club are building. They have one of the highest-scoring teams in the country and they went to Newcastle with the belief that they could get something from the game. The first-half was a footballing lesson for them, but they showed fight in the second-half and they deserve credit for that.
It would have been easy for the players to have given up or shied away after going in at half-time 3-0 down, but these Luton players were determined to give their Premier League hosts a scare. They deserved a goal for their efforts and that came shortly after the break. The 3-1 final result suggests that it was a straightforward win for the Premier League team, but it was far from that.
Jamaal Lascelles went off injured
The player that Rafa Benitez would have been desperate to stay fit for the rest of the campaign was Jamaal Lascelles, as his importance became evident during his absence earlier in the season. Newcastle went off the rails without their club captain and their defence started to leak goals on a regular basis. Since his return, they have picked up two wins in the Premier League and climbed back out of the relegation zone.
It was a risk for Benitez to play a near full-strength team after a long festive period and it could be a decision that he lives to regret as Lascelles was forced off with an injury in the first-half. It may have been a precautionary measure, but he wasn’t moving well on the pitch and showed visual signs of pain on his face.
Newcastle have a huge home match against Swansea City next weekend and they will be desperate for their skipper to be fit to start. If he isn’t and faces another period on the sidelines, Benitez will be fearful of his side slipping back into the relegation zone as they seemed incapable of picking up points without Lascelles.