Miles Starforth: This was the last thing Mike Ashley wanted '“ but Newcastle United needed it
Rafa Benitez doesn't want a cup run. Nor does Mike Ashley.
Benitez is only interested in a run in a competition he feels Newcastle United can win.
And Benitez, an FA Cup-winning manager, doesn’t believe the relegation-threatened club has any chance of lifting the trophy at Wembley in May.
Ashley just isn’t interested. Full stop.
Benitez made eight changes for Tuesday night’s third-round replay against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.
That’s one more change than John Carver made for a controversial third-round defeat against Leicester City four years ago.
United’s players, including a 17-year-old Callum Roberts, were booed at the final whistle when they went to applaud the away end at the King Power Stadium.
Carver and Alan Pardew, his predecessor, were all criticised by fans for fielding weakened teams, as per the club’s previous policy towards the domestic cups.
That policy might have gone, but nothing much has changed in terms of selection and results.
Newcastle just don’t do cups these days, not under Ashley.
The club hasn’t progressed beyond the fourth round of the FA Cup in 13 years, and they haven’t fared too much better in the League Cup.
Like Benitez, most Newcastle fans don’t think the club can win the FA Cup either, but they intend to enjoy the ride.
It’s a break from the routine of top-flight defeats, a distraction from a depressing league campaign.
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Benitez made it clear he would rest players before the Blackburn replay. He also made it clear that his priority was the league.
Yet thousands still travelled across the Pennines.
There were well over 2,000 Newcastle fans in the Darwen End.
They were bothered about this game – and so too were the players.
Two Geordies – Roberts and Sean Longstaff – were on target for United while another, Adam Armstrong, scored for Blackburn.
After 210 long minutes of football over two games, Newcastle, minus three injured players, were in the fourth round, where they will face Watford at St James’s Park.
A win’s a win. And United needed that victory.
Hopefully, it will galvanise, and embolden, the dressing room ahead of Saturday’s Premier League home game against Cardiff City.
The club has a chance of going further than it ever has done in the FA Cup under Ashley, but the Blackburn result could also energise the team ahead of a hugely-important run of league games.
We can only speculate what Ashley’s reaction was to the cup win.
Did the club’s owner celebrate it? Maybe, maybe not.
The important thing was that a couple of thousand loyal supporters finally had something to celebrate on a cold, winter’s night in Blackburn.