We’ll be in the FA Cup 5th round draw for the first time since 2006, but not how we wanted to be, with us failing to beat Oxford within the 90 after a flat and toothless display at a packed out St James’ Park.
Steve Bruce named a strong starting 11 as promised, but nothing clicked all game, with Oxford being fully deserving of a replay – especially after squandering a few big openings in the second half.
The way the game started, it was immediately clear that Oxford were going to be much more competitive than the Rochdale side we beat 4-1 few weeks ago – despite both being in League One.
They immediately created a dangerous opening by flashing a ball across the box, pressed well (giving new boy Bentaleb little room for manoeuvre) and didn’t allow us to play out from the back nearly as easily as Rochdale did.
The first flash point was a lunging Jamaal Lascelles tackle that fortunately only saw him see yellow, but the first 15 minutes was a cagey, seeing Oxford give as good as they got all over the pitch.
Saint-Maximin had a few explosive moments and a shot saved after a dazzling run, Joelinton went down too easily for a potential penalty and Jamaal Lascelles missed a big chance with his head, but aside from that it was a pretty awful first 45 of football, with us looking disjointed and in second gear in all areas as things struggled to click.
We had 67% possession and the bigger chances, but were too slow and laboured on the ball and managed just one shot on target going into the break.
The 52,000 crowd started in good voice, but we had to up the tempo considerably in the second 45 – and
Joelinton had the ball in the back of the net just over 5 minutes into the restart, but he was offside, with Saint-Maximin taking too long to play the Brazilian in behind.
The Frenchman almost made up for it just moments later, skinning his man and getting a shot away inside the box, but it was straight at their goalkeeper.
It looked like we were just upping our intensity and edging closer to the breakthrough, yet sloppiness took over once again, with Oxford creating a host of half chances after Sean Longstaff was ponderous in possession.
We were playing a dangerous game and struggling to string anything together, and we were nearly punished, with Browne taking a brilliant touch to get in behind Jamaal Lascelles – only for his final finish to be straight at the onrushing Karl Darlow.
Joelinton then had the ball in the back of the net again minutes later, but it was chalked off this time because he was stood in an offside position when a Oxford clearance was deflected to him via Yedlin. He finished calmly – for the SECOND time today – however we was clearly offside again, sadly.
A few more half chances arrived, with Lascelles heading wide, Almiron firing over from close range and the Paraguayan drawing blatant yellows from Oxford midfielders as he burst in behind them on the break, but we looked like a side just struggling to know what to do with so much possession.
After all, we’re used to have little over 30% of the ball most weeks – so having over double that today left us looking a little stifled at times.
In the 87th minute, Joelinton’s big chance arrived – and one that would’ve counted had he found the net.
He latched onto a knock down from Clark but fired the ball high up into the Gallowgate End. He’d put in a half decent display today, yet ballooned over jus when we needed him to show a bit of quality in the final third – something we’ve been lacking all day.
Atsu burst into the box late on and forced a corner, but Oxford held on to force a FA Cup replay – yet could’ve easily won it late on if Holland’s 93rd minute strike wasn’t straight at Karl Darlow.
A full crowd and a day that promised to cap off a brilliant week off for the club, but a flat performance.
A disappointing day and an unacceptable display given what a win would’ve meant to the 52,000 fans inside St James’ Park!