Unfamiliar team, familiar result.
Newcastle United have had their share of early exits from this competition over the years.
Too many to mention, in fact.
And if you take away a wonderful first-half performance from Rolando Aarons, last night’s 3-2 defeat to Nottingham Forest was every bit as forgettable as the cup losses of recent years.
And there were the inevitable boos at the final whistle from fans fearful about the future after an underwhelming summer in the transfer market.
The team was cobbled together for this second-round Carabao Cup tie.
And the performance was cobbled together too.
The game was an opportunity for two or three marginalised players, told to find new clubs not so long ago, to go in the shop window in the last days of the transfer window.
Unfortunately, they didn’t seize that opportunity. Maybe that shouldn’t have come as a surprise given that Benitez had already deemed them surplus to requirements at the club.
With Benitez’s options already limited by injury, there was a call-up for centre-bacl Grant Hanley, who went on to have a particularly forgettable night.
Hanley, Karl Darlow, and Henri Saivet, all available for transfer this summer, were handed starts alongside 20-year-old Dan Barlaser, while Achraf Lazaar, exiled to the club’s Academy in pre-season, was surprisingly named on the bench.
The move was seemingly to show the Italian clubs tracking Lazaar that the 25-year-old was fit ahead of a return to Serie A.
Jack Colback, also looking for a new club, was not involved. Neither was Ajax-bound Siem de Jong.
United, above all else, needed a win – any win – after back-to-back Premier League defeats.
But Newcastle must now take on West Ham United in the Premier League on Saturday smarting from a third successive loss.
The game kicked off with fans singing the name of stand-in captain Darlow, the club’s Championship title-winning goalkeeper.
However, the euphoria of promotion has long gone. The mood on Tyneside has steadily darkened since the end of last season, though Aleksandar Mitrovic’s early goal against Forest lightened things inside St James’s Park.
Aarons broke down the left and rolled the ball to Mitrovic in the box. He took a touch before firing past Jordan Smith.
Aarons, looking to make up for lost time after missing so much football through injury, caught the eye with a series of runs down the left, while Jacob Murphy grew in confidence on the opposite flank.
Murphy spread the ball well to Aarons in the 27th minute, and the winger crossed for Mohamed Diame, at the far post, but the midfielder’s touch was poor.
Forest were a danger on the ball themselves. And they equalised in the 29th minute as Jason Cummings stooped and headed Zach Clough’s cross past former Forest goalkeeper Darlow.
It got worse for the hosts. A simple ball over the top from Danny Fox led to a second goal for Cummings, who lifted the ball over the advancing Darlow.
United were a mess at the back at times, but at least they had Aarons at the other end of the pitch.
The 21-year-old levelled matters at 2-2 before the break with his first goal since May last year, beating Smith with a shot from just outside the box.
Aarons picked up where he left off after the break.
Newcastle started the half well. Saivet had two shots blocked as they pressed and pressed their visitors, who had lost all their first-half momentum.
Lazaar and Isaac Hayden were sent on by Benitez, but United couldn’t conjure up a goal in normal time, and Cummings, on a hat-trick, struck the crossbar with a last-minute free-kick.
Forest, emboldened, came back at Newcastle in extra-time.
And Tyler Walker got a touch on Jack Hobbs’ goal-bound header from a 98th-minute corner, and the visitors were ahead again.
Newcastle just couldn’t get a clean hit on the chances that came their way as they chased an equaliser, and Forest saw out the game to book their place in the third round of the competition.
Still, there’s always the Checkatrade Trophy.