A top-half finish would be welcome, but it’s not a cup.
It was felt that Newcastle United’s best chance against Manchester City would have been a few months ago with a full house behind the team – and that assessment was proved to be correct.
Steve Bruce’s side were this evening beaten 2-0 by Manchester City. Deservedly.
Yet the FA Cup quarter-final, ultimately, turned on an extraordinary six-yard miss from Dwight Gayle seconds before Raheem Sterling scored the visitors’ second goal.
And those few seconds behind closed doors at St James’s Park changed everything. Unfortunately for Gayle, millions saw his miss on TV.
The focus of Newcastle fans will now be firmly on off-the-field events – and the proposed £300million takeover. That deal, however, is still not certain.
Bruce had fielded goalkeeper Karl Darlow in goal ahead of No.1 Martin Dubravka – and he was kept busy.
In total, United’s head coach made four changes, with Andy Carroll starting up front ahead of Joeltinon. Sean Longstaff also came into the team after recovering from the injury which had seen him miss the first two Premier League games of the restart.
Bruce’s side, backed by 5,000 away fans, had beaten West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns 117 days ago to book a place in the quarter-finals for the first time under Mike Ashley’s ownership.
Back then, a full house was seemingly a given, but due to the coronavirus pandemic there were around 300 people inside St James’s Park for the delayed fixture.
Outside, the streets around the stadium were deserted when the game kicked off. The stands were all but empty, and Alan Shearer watched from a makeshift studio erected at the Leazes End of the stadium.
However, the early action was at the opposite end of the pitch as City attacked Darlow’s goal. They attacked again and again and again.
What has lifted Newcastle in games like this, against opposition this good, is the crowd, and they badly need that encouragement during a difficult start at St James’s Park.
It was hard to watch. City had 85% possession up to the first drinks break. They pressed, prodded and probed, and should’ve been ahead by the half-hour mark. United, for their part, just couldn’t string a couple of passes together.
There was an inevitability about the first goal, which came in the 37th minute from the penalty spot after Fabian Schar, recalled to the starting XI, pushed Gabriel Jesus in the box after he went after a Kyle Walker cross.
Kevin De Bruyne stepped up and confidently stroked the resulting penalty past Darlow.
Game over? Not quite. Schar was pushed into midfield after the break, and Newcastle had a touch more possession, though their touches weren’t as accurate as those of their visitors.
The best chance of the game fell to Gayle seconds after he replaced Carroll midway through the half – and the striker somehow put it over the bar.
Sterling curled a ball home in the 68th minute seconds later to make it 2-0. That really was game over.