Tonight, Newcastle United take a trip to the Hawthorns to take on West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup fifth round. This round of the cup is uncharted territory for Newcastle in the Mike Ashley era, and they simply have to make the most of it.
Newcastle rotten form
Since the turn of year, Newcastle have seriously struggled for form. They’ve won just three games in all competitions since New Years Day – two of which were FA Cup replays against League One opposition. The other was Chelsea… naturally.
In the Premier League, United haven’t managed a goal since mid-January when Florian Lejeune scored an injury time to brace to steal a point at Goodison Park. Interestingly, there are no Premier League teams to have scored more goals than Newcastle in the FA Cup so far (eight) – they have played four games already though.
Last time out in the FA Cup, Newcastle raced into a two goal lead against Oxford in the fourth round replay. Then, Oxford staged a very late comeback and forced the game into extra time wherein Allan Saint-Maximin scored a 118th minute screamer to see Steve Bruce’s side through.
That Allan Saint-Maximin goal was actually the last time Newcastle found the back of the net. Since then, they’ve lost 4-0 away at Arsenal, 1-0 away at Crystal Palace and drew 0-0 with Burnley at the weekend.
Bruce’s tactic switch
For a while the Newcastle fans have been clamouring for Steve Bruce to change the formation at Newcastle to a back four rather than the back five he has been using. On Saturday, he obliged as Newcastle employed a back four for the first time since their humiliating 5-0 loss at Leicester early in the season.
While the attacking they did was indeed better than it has been, and far more regular, it had no impact on the outcome of the game. The one stat most have quoted from the game was the fact Newcastle had 21 shots at goal – there’s been little to mention that just four of them were actually on target.
Tonight, I’d expect a similar formation with the team lining up in some variation of a 4-3-3 formation. Allan Saint-Maximin is set to return to the team having missed the game on Saturday with a niggle in his hamstring. I personally see ASM starting on the left, Joelinton through the middle with Matt Ritchie on the right.
In midfield, I’d expect the return of Sean Longstaff to the team – he’s played throughout the FA Cup campaign and had a very decent game away at Oxford. One of Nabil Bentaleb, Jonjo Shelvey, Matty Longstaff or Isaac Hayden will start alongside him – it’s pretty much anyone’s guess which.
Then, Miguel Almiron will (hopefully) start in a central attacking midfield role where he will have the best shot at pleasing the 5,000 Geordies that will be in attendance at the Hawthorns this evening.
A must win for the Toon
Let’s make this clear right away – there is NO excuse for Newcastle not to be in the quarter-final draw for the FA Cup. So far, they’ve played only lower league opposition and scraped past both Rochdale and Oxford in replays.
Now though, Bruce’s position as Newcastle manager is coming under increased scrutiny with each passing terrible performance so tonight, they need to put on a show for the hoards of traveling Mags.
West Bromwich Albion are pushing for promotion from the Championship to get back to the Premier League.
Due to how tight that league is at the top, I don’t think manager Slaven Bilic will field his strongest team – so that should help Newcastle out a little. They need to focus on gaining promotion – it’s far more important to them right now.
If Newcastle lose this game tonight, Steve Bruce will see just how quickly the walls can close in on you as the manager of Newcastle. This fanbase do not accept poor performances.
Poor results are acceptable to a degree, so long as the fans can see evidence of a team that did everything they could – right now, they aren’t seeing that even for a second. There is absolutely no excuses at all for a squad of this calibre to lose to a second division team.
As I mentioned at the top of the piece, this is the first time Newcastle have reached the FA Cup fifth round in the Mike Ashley era. The last time they got this far was in 2005/06 when they beat Southampton 1-0 to progress to the quarters.
In fact, in each of the last seven occasions United have reached the fifth round, they’ve progressed to the quarters. The result tonight is important, but equally as important is the performance – Bruce needs the fans back onside, and this is a good place to start.