This is why Allan Saint-Maximin HAD to run to Newcastle United's fans
Allan Saint-Maximin had ran and ran since replacing Joelinton at the Kassam Stadium. He’d ran himself into the ground.
But the winger had the legs to run the full length of the pitch in the 116th minute of Newcastle United’s FA Cup replay against Oxford United.
Saint-Maximin was heading for the club’s fans, who were at the far end of the open-ended ground, the scene of a cup defeat three years earlier.
Seconds earlier, Saint-Maxim had taken the ball on the left, more than 50 yards from goal.
With the replay level and seemingly heading for penalties, the 22-year-old had ran down the wing before cutting inside on to his right foot. He skipped past two defenders before unleashing a fierce shot into the top right-hand corner to make it 3-2. Game over.
It was a remarkable goal and a remarkable moment for a club which hadn’t reached the fifth round in 14 years.
And Saint-Maximin, still relatively new to English football following his move to Tyneside from France last summer, knew what the goal in the world’s oldest cup competition meant to the club’s 1,800 travelling supporters, who wildly celebrated the strike, his second for the club.
Steve Bruce, Newcastle's head coach, had spoken to him a bout the importance of the game against the League One team to the club’s fans, who had seen their team beat Rochdale at the second attempt in the previous round.
“I had to go to the fans, because the trainer (Bruce) talked to me and explained it’s a really important game,” said Saint-Maximin, signed from Nice for £16.5million.
“That’s why we give everything to win this game. You know when you’re winning 2-0 and it goes to 2-2, you feel like ‘no, we cannot do that’ for the fans.
“A lot of fans came. I felt in my head that I had to do something. My team-mates gave me a lot of balls before I scored. I’m really happy to score.”
The strike took the club into the fifth round of the competition for the first time since goals from Michael Chopra and Scott Parker gave the club a 2-0 win over Cheltenham Town at Whaddon Road in January 2006.
Owner Mike Ashley – who had left Steve Bruce's managerial predecessors with squads ill-equipped to compete on more than one front – was there to see “a little bit of history”.
Championship club West Bromwich Albion now stand between Newcastle and an FA Cup quarter-final.
“It’s a little bit of history, you know, because it’s a long time since we went this far in the FA Cup,” said Saint-Maximin. “We won this really important game and I scored. My team helped me a lot and gave me a good ball.”
Newcastle had led 2-0 at the break thanks to goals from Sean Longstaff and Joelinton, who was forced off with an injury late in the first half.
A strike from Liam Kelly sparked a late comeback, and the tie went into extra time thanks to a 94th-minute strike from Nathan Holland.
“I genuinely thought we were in complete control until the last 10 minutes when the boy (Kelly) bends one in the top corner,” said head coach Bruce, who had left Saint-Maximin out of his starting XI to give him some rest.
“I couldn’t remember my goalkeeper making a save before that.
“Then they win a free-kick – I’m not so sure it was one – and they win two headers, and the boy smashes a volley in. No disrespect, I don’t think he’ll hit one any sweeter. We had a difficult five or 10 minutes in the first half of extra-time.”
Whatever had gone on, Saint-Maximin was determined that the game wouldn’t be decided by penalties, and he took matters into his own hands.
“We worked very hard to make it 2-0, but Oxford played very well and came back for 2-2, and after we go to extra time,” said Saint-Maximin, who returned from a hamstring problem last month.
“Extra time is very difficult, because when you go to penalties, every team can win.
“It’s a little bit crazy. We were talking a lot, and we knew we couldn’t go to penalties. I was lucky to score this very good goal for my team. I’m very happy, because I know it’s important goal.”
Asked what happened in the final minutes of normal time, Saint-Maximin said: “It was a really difficult game, five goals.
“We scored two goals first, and Oxford scored two goals. After, we scored in the last minutes. Sometimes you have to play these games to learn. It’s what we did. We learnt a lot for the next time, when we win 2-0. We will try to stop them coming back.”
Does Saint-Maximin now know what the FA Cup, last won by Newcastle in 1955, is all about?
“Everybody knows it’s really important for the club, for the history, for the fans,” said Saint-Maximin, who will now have some time off ahead of the February 16 game against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. “It’s really important. For this, we took the best team to win this game.
“Joelinton was injured, and I came on. I had to work a lot, and after we win this game. I think everybody was really happy.”