The third round of the FA Cup is a great one for the neutrals as it brings the best opportunity for a shock result, be it a minor upset or a full-scale giant-killing.
Saturday’s action had quite a few big results in which lower-league teams beat their higher-placed counterparts, including Boreham Wood knocking out AFC Wimbledon and Kidderminster Harriers (the lowest-ranked team left in the FA Cup) beating Championship side Reading.
But perhaps the biggest result came at St James’ Park. January was supposed to be the start of a new era at Newcastle United, the month they were finally allowed to flex themselves in the transfer market after their big-money buyout. And before their third round tie against League One side Cambridge United, the richest club in the world paraded new signing Kieran Trippier in front of their fans ahead of the English right-back’s first start.
That would be where the happiness peaked for Newcastle fans on the day though, as they ended it out of the FA Cup and suffering more disappointment this season, with no further distractions from their relegation battle.
On another day Newcastle might have cruised through to the fourth round with 23 shots and nine on target, but they met a wall in Cambridge goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov whose nine saves were described as match-winning by former England Women’s international Fara Williams.
“It has to be the upset of the round. Going to a packed St James’ Park and put on the performance they did,” she said on BBC’s Final Score.
“Credit to the Cambridge ‘keeper Dimitar Mitov with nine saves. And not just any saves, they were match-winning saves. He had a great performance, Cambridge had fantastic performance.”
But Mitov’s saves were only game-winning because Cambridge managed to find the net at the other end thanks to a scruffy, but unforgettable goal.
Newcastle United have been dumped of the third round of the #EmiratesFACup for the second season in a row.
League One Cambridge pull off the shock of the round pic.twitter.com/EK2eHsr9rX
— Squawka (@Squawka) January 8, 2022
Newcastle had failed to deal with a ball into the box, spilled by Martin Dubravka. A shot was hooked goalward and cleared, but it only fell to Joe Ironside who took a first-time shot on the spin and beat the covering Newcastle man on the line.
Cue bedlam on the pitch and in the Cambridge away end but things were temporarily halted as VAR threatened to take the goal away from them, reportedly for offside. After a good few minutes the goal was officially awarded and Cambridge could celebrate again, with a special moment for Middlesbrough-born Ironside.
“I can’t describe it, I am a bit lost for words, it panned out how I dreamed about it last night. I am proud of every single one of us,” he told BBC of his goal.
“I have got to play here and it is stuff I dreamed of, Alan Shearer was my hero, I grew up idolising him – now I have scored the winner at St James’ Park. It doesn’t matter how they go in, it could have been that or a worldie, I don’t care.
“We have all dug in together and it is a momentous day for the football club.”
The result was also described as a “fairytale” by Cambridge manager Mark Bonner, but for Newcastle it was more of a nightmare and proof that their troubles cannot be solved just by appointing a new manager and flashing the cash.
Newcastle’s full attention will now turn to the Premier League, where they currently sit two points from safety at the halfway stage of their season. Across all competitions, the Magpies have managed just one victory from their 21 matches, beating Burnley 1-0 at the start of December.
And Howe knows the upcoming run of fixtures, which sees Newcastle face Watford, Leeds and Everton – all around them in the table – will be vital.
He said: “The next group of games could potentially be season-defining. Feeding the payers and giving them the confidence to execute is the challenge I face.
“It’s a good group of players with a good attitude but we have to take this defeat on the chin and come back again.”