Newcastle are through to the fourth round of the FA Cup, but we certainly didn’t make it easy going against Blackburn. Dragged to a replay, it took extra time to secure the win, but it was a result and a performance that those in black and white can be proud of.
Rafa Benitez was bold in his selection choices – giving youth a chance – and he was duly rewarded. Within a minute, Sean Longstaff found the net courtesy of a wicked deflection. Cal Roberts added a second – his first senior goal for Newcastle – much to the delight of the travelling Toon support.
Chaos ensued in defence towards the end of the half, and it certainly hurt as a Newcastle fan to watch Adam Armstrong net against us. It was a cracking pass from Danny Graham and an assured finish from Armstrong, though I do immensely respect him for not celebrating. Playing against the club he supports and gave him his start, it was a respectable touch that the fans appreciate.
Some bewilderingly poor defending from a set piece gifted Blackburn an equaliser before the half, as Darragh Lenihan somehow magnetised the two Newcastle defenders to the floor it seemed and out leapt the pair.
An absolutely cracking first half of football that oozed the magic of the FA Cup and was as far from a Tuesday night replay as possible. The way both teams were going for the game seemed more akin to the cup final than a cold mid-January night in the North West.
Naturally, therefore, the second half offered no goals, but that didn’t mean the football was poor. The same intensity that defined the first half was on display from both sides, and particularly the home side as Blackburn smelt blood.
There was a fair number of heart-in-mouth moments as I watched them press our defence, I will freely admit.
The second half also demonstrated the dangers of the FA Cup as a number of physical tackles went flying in, mainly from the Championship side, and plenty of knocks and niggles were collected.
In possibly the most comically unfortunate situation, the second half also saw Jamaal Lascelles come on as a half time substitute for Ciaran Clark, only to suffer a hamstring issue and need to be replaced by Isaac Hayden. However, then later in the half Hayden went down and needed significant treatment, looking destined to need to come off.
The midfielder managed to struggle on, and shake off his affliction, but Newcastle fans very nearly witnessed the substitute for the half time substitute needing substituted. If that isn’t the start of a bad football joke, I don’t know what is.
Extra time rolled around after some more nervy moments, and a few more of the big guns were readied – including Ayoze Perez.
At that stage Benitez and the travelling fans could sense they were starting to have the legs of their opponents, and that proved as Joselu pounced on a stinging shot that Blackburn goalkeeper David Raya could only spill in front of him.
It was unfortunate for Raya, and even more so when the replays showed Joselu to clearly be half a man offside when the initial shot was struck. The goal shouldn’t have counted, but fortune for once favoured those from Tyneside, and it did.
However, for all the luck involved in Joselu’s strike, there was none in Perez’s that ensured the win for those in black and white. A great run from deep, he shrugged off his lack of support to fire expertly into the far corner with enough power that even the glove Raya got on the ball couldn’t keep it out.
As the full-time whistle rang out at Ewood Park, it was a great win for Newcastle and a brilliant game of football to watch. The Magpies had done the unexpected and actually progressed in the cup, and perhaps more encouraging than anything else, had been assisted enormously by their young stars.
Much has been made of Newcastle’s woefully underfunded academy, and the lack of depth or strength the Magpies have in their second string. That fact remains very much true, and while Longstaff is starting to show glimmers, he is the best of a bunch that still aren’t Premier League ready.
Yet, with that said, they do have one incredibly important thing in their favour. Determination. Each one of those young Newcastle stars on the pitch against Blackburn bled black and white. They fought for every ball and ran themselves into the ground, and that offers some real hope to supporters.
It’s not a new thing for Newcastle to be lacking the talent it needs on the pitch, but one criticism of recent seasons that certainly can’t be levelled at many in that team is a lack of desire or fight for this club. The young prospects perhaps the best example of that commitment and passion to right by the name of the club, and that’s a real positive in what is a pretty depressing time surrounding the club.