Another dire display from Newcastle United and yet another game where late drama has saved the day for Steve Bruce.
After taking an early lead via an awful Gillespie error, Newport County were five minutes away from the Carabao Cup quarter finals until Jonjo Shelvey curled one into the top corner to take us to penalties.
Gillespie redeemed himself in the shootout with a save that made all the difference to send us into the last 8, but it was a worrying watch from start to finish and a real struggle against a team in the FOURTH tier of English football.
Steve Bruce again tinkered with the side in this one – bringing in Shelvey, Fernandez and Lewis. Joelinton was also rested and replaced by Andy Carroll – with the exciting trio of Murphy, Almiron and Fraser supporting him in attack. Other than that, it was a fairly similar side & system to the one that was used to obliterate Morecambe.
(4-2-3-1): Gillespie – Manquillo, Krafth, Fernandez, Lewis – Shelvey, S Longstaff – Murphy, Almiron, Fraser – Carroll.
So, a strong side that should be far too strong for a League Two side, but it was an absolutely disastrous start..
After ghosting past Shelvey in midfield, a stunning effort from the host’s rattled the off the crossbar and the rebound rolled to their man Abrahams – who chested the ball down and hit a tame effort towards our goal – only for Mark Gillespie to complete misjudge it and allow it to roll into the corner of the net. 1-0.
A catastrophic error from the man who’s had a otherwise brilliant start to his NUFC career, making several good stops and banking back-to-back clean sheets in our last two rounds.
As you would expect – we were instantly eager to find a leveller. Jacob Murphy was our best outlet down the right side and looked positive whilst Andy Carroll looked dominant – but we failed to create any concrete chances early on.
It felt like an extension of Sunday’s affair – lacklustre, slow passing and no invention. Hit and hoping the ball up to Andy Carroll against a league two outfit was embarrassing to see; I don’t think anyone was surprised that we were struggling to find an equaliser.
It was also frustrating to see Jonjo Shelvey pick up a needless yellow for the third game in a row after letting Scott Twine wind him up. He spent the first half going through the motions, treading water, not tracking back and failing to complete the Hollywood balls he so often opts for.
Murphy was bright and forced their goalkeeper into three first half saves. His touch in the final third sometimes let him down on other occasions.
The hosts really should have had two more goals before half- time. They came close with two efforts that just flew over the bar either side of Jonjo Shelvey’s scuffed chance.
Soon after, the half time whistle blew to end what was an absolutely turgid first 45.
Bruce complained about the criticism he’d been getting beforehand, yet his game plan against a League Two side was nothing short of dreadful. Other than Jacob Murphy, every other player had given a disappointing account of themselves in what had been a disjointed, desperate and diabolical display up until this point. A lot had to change in the second half if we wanted to get through to the quarter finals.
Substitutions were imperative but the original cast tried to get us back into the game without much joy after the restart. Early in the second half, a perfectly weighted ball from Sean Longstaff put Ryan Fraser in on goal whose eventual shot was blocked.
The follow-up fell to Almiron – who fired straight at the goalkeeper rather than finding a team-mate and had his shot blocked. Another wasted opportunity.
Thankfully, two changes followed – Joelinton & Callum Wilson replaced Andy Carroll & Miguel Almiron on the 60 minute mark and it helped to inject some pace into what had been a completely lethargic attack. Wilson could’ve had a good look at goal almost instantly, but Jacob Murphy let himself down with a poor final ball.
The aforementioned Murphy then found himself in space and tried to place the ball into the corner with his left foot, but his effort was dragged well wide of the target.
We finally began to pen Newport in and spaces started to appear – Joelinton sent Fraser in on goal and the Scotsman looked destined to score until their man Cooper came in with a perfect last ditch tackle. Nothing came of the subsequent corner.
Moments later, Jacob Murphy failed to gamble on a Ryan Fraser cross and when the ball eventually came to him, he was completely flat footed. He was less than five yards from goal but the ball just bounced off him – and into the keeper’s thankful hands.
Time was running out.
Just minutes before the end, Shelvey created his own space on the edge of the box with a terrific piece of skill, took another touch and then curled a beautiful shot into the top corner. 1-1!
He might’ve been our worst player (by far) on the night up until this point, but I was ecstatic to see him bail us out with a piece of quality when we badly needed it!
If not for the heroic Newport defending, we easily could’ve had another before the final whistle. Sadly, That wasn’t to be and the game was headed to penalties.
A disgraceful performance in the 90 minutes and we’d have only lady luck to thank if we won this tie as it went to penalties.
Wilson took first in the shootout, and scored – as did the first Newport taker. Joelinton stepped up next for us but saw his effort saved – a nightmare for the big Brazilian who looked more lively than most in black and white in the final half hour.
Newport stepped up and scored to gain the advantage, then Schar and their man Sheehan both scored before Jonjo Shelvey tucked away his penalty. Thankfully, a strong save by Mark Gillespie from Taylor’s penalty tied things up at 3-3 after 4 penalties each! Into sudden death and Jacob Murphy scored, but so did Dolan for the hosts. 4-4 after five each.
Sean Longstaff was up next for us and he slid home with real composure – meaning Newport had to score to keep the tie alive. The pressure got to Cooper, who skied his penalty his penalty way over the bar and we had won the shootout!
I’m sure Steve Bruce will have his excuses tonight but it’s time he admits that these performances simply aren’t acceptable. We were outplayed by a League Two side for the majority of this tie, and in all honesty it was hard to differentiate who was meant to be the Premier League team.
We’re into the quarter-finals but it’s hard to be excited after the way we have been performing.
We can’t rely on luck any longer; Steve Bruce needs to alter the way we play. If not, I fear for us and his future at the club.