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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - NEWCASTLE: False dawns. This is a season and a football club littered with them.
Newcastle United’s campaign sunk to new, remarkable lows as they were dumped out of the FA Cup at the third round stage by League One club Cambridge United at St James’ Park.
Joe Ironside’s second-half strike, subject to a lengthy VAR check, was enough to ensure a giant-killing — the most embarrassing in the football club’s recent memory, played out on Tyneside.
Who said the magic of the cup is dead? Well it has been long buried on Tyneside. Not since 2005 have the Magpies reached the last four of the competition.
With chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan in attendance — he flew in for a breakfast meeting-cum-transfer summit with Amanda Staveley, Mehrdad Ghodoussi and Jamie Reuben — toothless United huffed and puffed but failed to even get close to blowing the house down.
The 47,000 home fans in attendance deserved so much better than this lifeless, soulless, abject failure of a showing.
The malaise began early as Cambridge carved many of the brighter openings from the off.
George Williams’ free header from a U’s corner was a shot across the Magpies’ bows.
Chances for the likes of Jacob Murphy — who cracked off the upright — and Allan Saint-Maximin — who was not at the races all day — came and went as Cambridge held firm, particularly with inspired Dimitar Mitov between the sticks, whose performance will have written him into FA Cup folklore.
While United lacked conviction and urgency in the opening half, the worst was yet to come after the break.
Without Callum Wilson and Dwight Gayle, the Magpies had no focal point, and though dominating possession and firing plenty in at goal, they never really looked like putting this tie to bed.
And their profligacy in attack was punished on the hour when Ironside found space in the area to slot home, sending the 5,000 traveling fans into raptures.
And while debutant Kieran Trippier toiled and Joelinton grafted, United got worse for Howe’s substitutions. Joe Willock and Miguel Almiron added nothing to the United mix following their introduction.
As time ticked away United almost grasped something from the jaws of defeat as Joelinton’s towering header looked set to nestle in the Gallowgate End net, but for hero Mitov to somehow paw over the top and seal an historic win for the third-tier outfit.
This is a result and performance that will leave many wondering, can Newcastle United be trusted to have good things?
At first they were delivered the takeover to end all takeovers, by owners with an embarrassment of riches. No bounce.
Then it was the end of Steve Bruce. Again no bounce.
The appointment of Eddie Howe. Little to nothing.
Then the transfer window, the introduction of an England international and bids galore around European football. Still lifeless — nothing.
The FA Cup was never a priority for United this campaign. Staying in the Premier League is. But this does not send the kind of signals that a top flight recovery is in the offing, no matter what is done in the market between now and February.
If the PIF needed it underlined — and they probably did not — they saw firsthand that United need major surgery, not a January revamp.
And while Howe is the man with the reins now, any further blips like this one could see questions asked of his leadership in the halls of power in Riyadh.
Are the Magpies cursed this season? No. The truth of the matter is, they are just not very good. And they are a team that has simply forgotten how to win games, which is not a good habit to get into when the club’s top flight status is at stake.
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