Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United face Oxford United at The Kassam Stadium on Saturday afternoon in The 4th Round of The Emirates (£150M shirt sponsors from 2014 of Arsenal, who won the trophy in 2014 & 2015) FA Cup looking to reach the 5th Round stage of the competition for the first time since 2006.
Officiating the match is David Coote, who reffed Newcastle’s 4-1 win over Northampton in last year’s League Cup tie at St. James’ yet was also ref when The Magpies lost to Blackburn at home missing this late hand-ball penalty.
Yet ultimately it was complacency on the part of Rafa Benitez – who changed six men from Newcastle’s oh-so-impressive win away to Leeds United ahead of the League Cup Quarter-Final tie against Hull City – that put paid to The Magpies hopes for three points against Rovers.
The Championship-Cup balance is one every manager must weigh up and very few if any Newcastle fans would swap instant promotion back to The Premier League for the chance of The Magpies’ first major silverware since 1969 yet fielding a weakened side versus Blackburn certainly halted the club’s winning momentum.
A narrow loss at Hull followed and the authorities took it upon themselves to attempt to turn a stumble into a fall with the most disgraceful refereeing performance seen possibly anywhere in the English professional Leagues and competitions this season in the 2-1 reverse at Nottingham Forest when Newcastle were reduced to nine men.
Some of Newcastle’s fanbase will recognise the man behind the manager Michael Appleton in the Oxford dugout, Derek Fazackerley, who was Kevin Keegan’s First Team coach in the early 1990s and later joined the legendary Magpies player and manager in the England set-up when Keegan was named Three Lions national team boss.
Experienced Fazackerley was credited with being a major factor behind the attractive football played by Keegan’s entertaining sides & believes Cup runs help League teams & is relishing the tie against a club he once coached:
“The cup competitions gave us momentum last year” he told Yellow Player HD “and there is the possibility they could do that again this year. First we have a difficult game against Bradford, then we can look forward to the game against Newcastle.”
Rafa got it right against Birmingham City in the 3-1 replay win as he gladly welcomed back JonJo Shelvey, whose 5-game absence through suspension was a decisive factor in Newcastle’s festive blip although a more rugged winter line-up may have helped prevent Newcastle freeze in the cold.
With Daryl Murphy’s 3 goals in his last 3 games goal record, Benitez’s decision to sign the 33-year-old Eire international has been more that justified as the veteran Championship striker has expertly stepped into the breach left by injuries to top scorer Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic, stretchered off after this goal went in:
With Mitrovic set to return soon and Dwight Gayle’s injury not as bad as first feared either, Benitez may risk Murphy leading the line against Oxford and his experience of the lower echelons of the football world – at Waterford, Sunderland, Ipswich and the like – can only help Newcastle’s cause.
Murphy is the perfect experienced figure to lead the line and ensure a Newcastle victory and while Benitez will certainly shuffle his pack again and bring back Grant Hanley, Cheick Tiote and Massadio Haidara back into the fold, he will have learned his lesson about rotating and resting too many of his first team.
“He is that type of striker who is aggressive, he uses his physique. He’s not the quickest but he is wonderful in the air and good on the ground.
“He had a couple of seasons at Ipswich where he was a recognised goalscorer, and I remember watching him up in Scotland with Celtic and he scored goals there.”
Whether Benitez will risk playing Newcastle’s talisman and play-maker JonJo Shelvey or wraps him in cotton wool remains to be seen yet what is certain is that Newcastle should go all out to recruit an alternative creative option to him should he face injury or suspension between now and the end of the season.
Lots of names have been linked with The Magpies during the transfer window in the creative department from Ruben Loftus-Cheek to Tom Cleverley yet a player who Rafa could take a risk on is Ravel Morrison, currently training with Wigan Athletic, would certainly fit the bill.
The 23 year-old has all the talent in the world & if a manager like Benitez could coax the best from him, he would be a player to not just help guide Newcastle back to The Championship yet perform in The Premier League, too.
All told, a Newcastle side focused on the game in hand should pass its Oxford entrance exam into the 5th Round.