Newcastle midfielder Isaac Hayden didn’t want to make excuses following his side’s FA Cup defeat to Watford - yet there was an air of inevitability about this fourth-round tie right from the start.
The Magpies don’t progress past this stage of the competition - not any more - not since Mike Ashley bought the club back in 2007.
Not since 2006 have Newcastle made it through to the fifth round, when Alan Shearer led the line and the club wasn’t burdened by the threat of relegation.
Here manager Rafa Benitez made seven changes to the team which beat Cardiff last weekend and it showed, as a side hampered with ring rust and a lack of game time failed to deliver.
Hayden, 23, was one of the four who kept his place but, while top scorers Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez started substitutes bench, Benitez didn’t hide the fact he was holding something back.
Some may see the logic behind it and argue Newcastle don’t have the resources to fight on both fronts, yet they went down with a whimper against the Hornets and registered just one effort on target in front of 34,604 fans.
“To be fair to Watford, I thought they had a really good game plan,” said Hayden when assessing the defeat.
“They played a good game, and I just think we got found out really. We couldn’t get near their midfielders, and when they had so much time on the ball, they were able to do what they wanted with it.
“The distances were just too big, that was it in a nutshell. We couldn’t really get a foothold in the game because we gave the ball away quite cheaply.
“We created a few openings when we did have it, but then the final ball wasn’t there. Usually, we’re quite dangerous from set-pieces, but for some reason, the ball wasn’t quite there and we didn’t really cause them any problems.
“The main thing was that the distances were just too big everywhere on the pitch. We were getting there late to things, and when you do that, they can play around you.”
As Hayden pointed out, the likes of Joselu, Jacob Murphy and Kenedy haven’t started a league game this year and it can be challenging coming straight in from the fringes.
But while players at this level always want to win, the subliminal messages from United’s top brass were hardly inspiring.
Managing director Lee Charnley was the only member of Newcastle’s hierarchy who was present on Saturday, highlighting the club’s lack of interest in the FA Cup.
“Of course it’s disappointing,” said Hayden, when asked about Newcastle’s poor record in the competition.
“But the problem is that when players don’t play an awful lot and then suddenly get an opportunity to play, it’s hard for them to come in.
“Obviously, they want to take their chance, but the problem is that it’s hard when it’s a case of, ‘Okay, you’ll get one game and then that’s it’. Players like Jacob and Joselu, they’ve only had a couple of games, and you need a lot more than that.
“You can’t be doing your best and playing your best football if you’ve got a couple of games and then you don’t play for another two months. It’s impossible.
“The rhythm of the game was difficult. They made changes too, but a lot of their players have been playing a lot of more regularly than some of ours have been.”
“You don’t want to make excuses because excuses don’t get you anywhere, but I just think they came with a good game plan and it worked for them.”
Indeed, Watford did make a lot of changes, all 11 players to be exact. Yet the Hornets’ forward line of Gray, Isaac Success and Will Hughes still cost a combined £39million.
It doesn't get any easier for Benitez’s side, either, with games against Manchester City (tomorrow night) and Tottenham up next.
“It is what it is. If I’m being honest, the season won’t be defined by Tuesday night or next Saturday,” said Hayden.
“The season will be defined by the games like Huddersfield at home, Southampton, Burnley – the next two matches don’t fall into that category.
“To be fair, Tottenham probably aren’t as strong as Man City are at the minute, but Tuesday night, you’re trying your best to stop what is a very good opposition.
“If you can, it’s a bonus. It’s almost like a bonus-ball game. If you can get a point, or nick all three points with a set-piece and defend for your lives, then fantastic.”
He added: “A few of the lads on the bench will probably come back in for the league game.
“There’ll be a lot of fresh legs for Tuesday, so no one can use it as an excuse and say they were thinking about Tuesday today because the team will be pretty different.”
Hayden has also been open about his own situation and hasn’t hid the fact he wants to leave Newcastle for ‘family reasons’.
Yet the midfielder won’t be allowed to leave Tyneside unless Benitez finds a replacement.
“It is what it is. I can’t change it,” said Hayden when asked about his future. “It’s up to the football club. We’ve had ongoing discussions and there’s only five days left now.
“Whatever happens, If it’s not in January, then we’ve got three months until the end of the season and I’ll give 100 per cent if I’m called upon. If I’m not, then I’m not.”