Stevenage re-write history?
To add to our historical FA Cup woes, Newcastle United were beaten by League Two Stevenage in what can only be described as emphatic fashion.
Nearly 40 years since Hereford Utd humbled the black and whites, to provide broadcasters with ammunitione every time the FA Cup takes the seasonal stage, Stevenage provided yet more footage to make many a Mag's stomach tighten.
I'm too young to remember the ignomny first hand when Ronnie Radford et al dumped us out of the cup. But I am old enough to remember the first time Stevenage came close to a giant-killing against us, with a side including Alan Shearer. There was much animosity surrounding that tie, with the bitterness that came from our win lasting until this tie over a decade later. This time round though the underdogs had their day and their chance to right what they saw as a wrong.
Graham Westley had talked up his young and ambitious club with obvious good reason, as Newcastle United were outthought, outmanaged, outfought, outplayed and dare I say it, even outsung on a historic occasion.
With the mackems and Boro already dumped unceremoniously out of the competition, it was inevitable folly to mock our rivals with a tricky tie of our own ahead. And sure enough, in a 3rd round North East nightmare, we became the latest of the big three to suffer at the hands of a team several divisions below us.
Alan Pardew had squad headaches with various injuries but even given those limitations put out a baffling formation and made some questionable inclusions with players who are clearly not up to the task. Even considering that, there should have been enough on show to prove too strong even for the pluckiest of lower league teams.
However, that relied on the away side being up for the challenge and they were put unquestionably in the shade of the bright Broadhall Way floodlights, by a determined and capable Stevenage side.
The first half was actually a largely forgettable affair for the away supporters and the neutrals, although the home side would have taken strength from a combative performance and all but no threat from their Premiership counterparts. Playing with Joey Barton on the left of midfield, Alan Smith and Kevin Nolan huffed and puffed in the middle while Routledge made short contribution on the right. Lovenkrands and Best were fed scraps of long balls but looked shy of posing any of the threat they did against West Ham.
Having seen his side struggle to make any impact in the first half, Pardew made changes in the second. Bringing on Ranger for Best he inexplicably chose to play a 4-5-1 with Lovenkrands replacing Barton who moved back into the middle. It didn't seem the most sensible choice having watched a young Ranger lacking confidence in recent games and the ability to make things stick upfront.
That proved fatal, as Stevenage enjoyed a fruitful start to the second half and the away side looking misshapen and unorganised. Within five minutes of the restart, a Stacy Long shot was wickedly deflected off Willamson and sent Krul the wrong way before nestling in the back of the net for 1-0.
It wasn't long before that lead was extended when sloppy play led to a break for Stevenage. Unable to clear their lines, the Newcastle defence allowed a free ball to fall to Bostwick who's smart drive went in off the post to send the home fans delerious.
Pardew then sacrificed Alan Smith, who's only contribution had been to get his customary yellow card. His replacement raised eyebrows as Cheik Tiote was already walking a tightrope with a collecion of yellow cards and was close to a ban. However, he went one better than Smith and saw red ten minutes later for what looked like a challenge that got the ball. But the nature of the tackle, where he left the floor with both feet, was enough for the ref to decide to give him is marching orders.
The game was effectively already over but that dismissal just rubbed salt into the wounds and if anything, the away side became even more dishevelled. In spite of that, with young Phil Airey being thrown into the mire and making his debut, Joey Barton finally put his stamp on the game with a great strike which sailed over the keeper to reduce the deficit with three minutes of injury time remaining.
Any hopes of a dramatic comeback were slim and soon became a distant memory as Stevenage almost immediately broke on the counter attack. Peter Winn finished well to make the scoreline 3-1, a result which haunt Newcastle supporters every year when the media roll out giant killings of previous years.
Stevenage can be very proud of their achievement and once the disappointment dissipates, it would be nice to think Newcastle fans will wish them well. On a day when we once again face up to our own lack of quality in depth, the fact remains that this was just another occasion when one team wanted it more than the other.
Alan Pardew needs to address that lack of spirit which was worringly missing again because it is a tough league programme ahead. And there should be some tough devisions made in view of certain players who need to be moved on. And there's an urgency to replace old for new, so this month's transfer window becomes all the more important. But for now it should be about the victors and the hope that they can go on and repeat the feat against another big team, on today's viewing they deserve that much.
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