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.
How Wigan Athletic have helped to rekindle the magic of the FA Cup
Wigan Athletic’s dramatic FA Cup fifth round victory over Premier League leaders Manchester City has helped to rekindle the magic of the competition, writes Rob Meech.
FA Cup shocks don’t come much bigger than Wigan Athletic’s 1-0 victory over Manchester City.
The League One club produced a sensational performance to knock out the Premier League champions-elect, whose hopes of winning an unprecedented Quadruple were left in tatters.
Will Grigg was the unexpected hero for the hosts, as his 79th-minute strike sent the 2013 winners into the quarter-finals and the club’s supporters into dreamland.
Wigan’s adventure has been beset with obstacles.
But, one by one, these have been overcome and a trip to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final is now a realistic proposition.
City are the third successive top-flight team to have been eliminated by the Latics, following Bournemouth and West Ham United who exited in rounds three and four, respectively.
Now, it is struggling Southampton that stand between Paul Cook’s men and the last four.
Arguably, City are the form team in Europe and one of the favourites to lift the Champions League.
But when it comes to the FA Cup, the form-book goes out of the window.
Despite being the runaway Premier League leaders, City succumbed to only their third defeat in all competitions this season.
Although the inevitable DW Stadium pitch invasion that greeted the final whistle sparked some unsavoury scenes, the result will be remembered as one of the greatest ever upsets.
There has been much talk about how the FA Cup has become devalued in recent years.
On top of an evening kick-off for the final, many clubs – not exclusive to the Premier League – field weakened teams and view the competition as an unwelcome distraction.
This has led to some pundits calling for it to be refreshed. Potential ideas include the scrapping of replays.
However, a by-product of big clubs treating the competition with disrespect is that the number of upsets has increased.
It’s not just Wigan who have sprung a surprise or two this season.
Coventry City belied their League Two status to dump out Stoke City in round three, while Newport County of the fourth division took Tottenham Hotspur to a money-spinning replay at Wembley Stadium.
League One’s Rochdale have done likewise in the fifth round, thanks to a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser at Spotland.
Despite what television companies might think, there is little appetite for watching two Premier League teams playing each other in the FA Cup.
Football enthusiasts want a chance to see the underdog have its day.
Wigan’s story has captured the imagination of supporters of all clubs, up and down the land.
Their stunning victory over a City side that, although not at full strength was nonetheless full of internationals, reinforced the legend of the FA Cup.
The romanticism of the competition has been rekindled this season, something for which Wigan deserve enormous credit.
Another factor is at play, though.
It may sound like a paradox, but if the FA Cup is to remain relevant then it needs the elite clubs to continue to treat it as an afterthought.
That way, shocks like Wigan’s will be repeated in seasons to come and interest in the world’s oldest domestic cup competition will remain high.
Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs
Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.
Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.
Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:
Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him
It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.
The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.
He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.
His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.
Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight
They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.
Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.
He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.
It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.
Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best
The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.
Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.
The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.
For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.
Sheffield Wednesday 0-0 Swansea City – Tammy Abraham didn’t take first-team opportunity
Swansea City were held in the FA Cup away to Championship club Sheffield Wednesday. The Swans have been drawn to face lower league opposition in every round of the competition so far and this occasion saw Carlos Carvalhal return to his former club. It was a huge day for him and he will be slightly disappointed by the performance that he witnessed.
Although the Premier League side selected a talented team, it was an even contest and both teams had chances to score. Neither team deserved to go through on this viewing and they will have to meet again at the Liberty Stadium in just over a week’s time.
It will be interesting to see who will await the winners of this tie in the next round and that could dictate whether Swansea take the replay seriously or not. Here are three talking points from Hillsborough:
Tammy Abraham didn’t take his opportunity
It was a frustrating day for Tammy Abraham as he had few chances to impress in the final third and he was taken off midway in the second half. That will be a disappointment for the forward as this was an opportunity to earn more game-time in the Premier League and his contribution on Saturday is unlikely to bring that.
During the match, he failed to have a single attempt on goal, while his pass success was at a poor 58%. The service he received was non-existent as shown in the second half when Luciano Narsingh refused to play the striker in.
Abraham did nice work to release the winger and spin in behind his marker, but the return ball didn’t arrive. The striker was visibly annoyed that the ball wasn’t given back.
Jordan Ayew was the man that replaced Abraham and he offered more when he was on the pitch. He was willing to drop deep to be given possession, while he got two attempts in on goal during his short time on the pitch.
His distribution was more effective, as displayed by his two key passes. The former Aston Villa man is the player that should lead the line for the relegation-threatened club.
Adam Reach stood out in midfield
This has been a season to forget for Sheffield Wednesday as they are a considerable distance off promotion, despite being one of the best Championship teams in recent seasons.
The match against Swansea provided the players with an opportunity to prove they can compete with Premier League opposition and Adam Reach was one of the standout performers.
The 25-year-old showed glimpses of both attacking and defensive quality, which shows he can contribute in both halves of the pitch. He will be the first to admit his final ball could have been better, but he regularly got in positions to cause problems for the away side. During the match, he attempted three shots and completed 86% of his passes.
Meanwhile, he worked hard out of possession and didn’t allow Swansea to dominate the midfield battle. Reach won four tackles and made a further two interceptions. He was relentless in work rate and his energy rubbed off on the rest of the team. The midfielder will be a player to keep an eye on in the replay.
Alfie Mawson had to miss the match through injury
The Swansea City defender was pencilled in to start in the match, but he was injured in the warm up and had to be replaced in the starting eleven by Kyle Naughton.
This was a major blow for the team as Mawson is a born leader at the back and offers composure to the back-line. He was later pictured wearing a knee brace and holding crutches, in what was a worrying sight.
The last thing Swansea need is a serious injury, especially to one of the team’s most important players. Towards the end of the game, the cameras showed that he was moving his leg more freely, but it is a concern nonetheless.
Naughton came in and did well, with one excellent challenge saving a goal in the first-half. The entire Swansea defence played well, with Kyle Bartley standing out as a Premier League centre-half.
The former Leeds United loanee won five aerial duels and made four ball recoveries. He could be required to step up if Mawson has to miss some of the run-in.
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