Updated: Dec 23, 2020
A cup run: one of two chances offered each season to Premier League clubs excluded from the top table, to offer their fans a distraction from the perennial misery that is generally found in midtable mediocrity and below. A chance for these fans, who begin each league season knowing that their ceiling of potential achievement sits firmly below sixth place, to believe that their team might just win something. A chance for fans to enjoy away days to new towns, outside of Premier League country, and maybe - just maybe - a trip to Wembley.
The 2019/20 season offered most of this during Newcastle's FA Cup run. Away days in Rochdale and Oxford followed disappointing league results, with the latter providing penicopter levels of relief. A trip to West Brom also followed a disappointing league result, as Newcastle soared into a three goal lead, to the delight of the travelling support, and reached the Quarter Final. Four days later, Newcastle fans unknowingly saw their team in person for the final time this year. The Quarter Final, an occasion that should have brought so much, played out to the echoes of an empty St. James' Park. An occasion lost.
The 2020/21 season has seen Newcastle travel to Newport and Morecambe - two more away days to new towns - but, this time, no enjoyment for away fans in discovering new pubs, making new friends and adding new grounds to their list. The 7-0 win at Morecambe should have provided another instant relief to a disappointing league game but only offered £10 PPV to isolated fans. Tonight's game, another Quarter Final, felt to many like just another game. What should have been a a day of annual leave and sickies to make the trip to Brentford was simply another occasion lost in the pandemic.
Steve Bruce's Newcastle United had already played lower league opposition eight times prior to the game at Brentford and were unbeaten in all eight. Replays added to this remarkable number but many Newcastle sides have exited cups at the hands of those beneath them in the football pyramid, so this ought to have been acknowledged as an achievement. This is Newcastle United - these are our achievements.
However, this unbeaten run clearly did not inspire the Toon Army, as a poll ran by our website on Twitter suggested that 85% of fans did not think that we would advance beyond Brentford into the Semi-Finals. Brentford. How are those unrealistic and deluded expectations, did ye say?
Luke Edwards published an article before the match in which he suggested that, should he win the cup, 'Bruce will be instantly elevated to legend status.' A poll put this suggestion to the fans and 62% responded that they did not agree with this. Luke's response to early polling numbers was, 'First manager to win a trophy for 51 years, succeeding where so many have failed, giving fans what they have craved more than anything and lots of the Twitteratti are already dismissing it.'
I suspect than many negative responses were quite simply based on a disbelief that Newcastle would win the cup and therefore ruling out this possibility on a pragmatic level. Although some of the responses were down to dislike of Bruce as Newcastle manager, it seems reasonable to suggest that COVID restrictions played a big part in people's feelings towards this. There are no away days, there is little prospect of a trip to Wembley and there is no sense of occasion.
Since football resumed in empty stadia, Newcastle have played 'The Big Six' seven times. We have not won any of those games, scoring 4 and conceding 20. The distraction from mediocre midtable form and the belief that our team might win something are feelings that are difficult to flourish in this pessimistic environment, nourished by every press conference given by our manager.
Critics of Rafa accused him of being a PR man, playing to the fans and saying what they wanted to hear to mask performances. Give me some of that, man. The performances are awful but if you're looking for inspiration - even if it's false - then the current manager isn't the place to go to find it. The same respectful and beige platitudes will be repeated, regardless of whether we face Liverpool or Newport. None of us have any confidence, our lives are pretty shit right now, just give us a rallying cry! Even if it's bollocks!
Ivan Toney was, inevitably, the main talking point in the buildup to the game. You could be forgiven for thinking that Newcastle had let Cristiano Ronaldo leave, judging by the fear in the collective souls of social media. As it happens, instructions to 'Mark Toney' were never needed as he was kept on ice. Thank you, I'm here all week.
Brentford played their cup team - not their first team - and Newcastle played arguably the strongest eleven available to them. I have no interest in writing about the match itself or analysing any individual player, nor do I have any interest in calculating statistics. It simply isn't necessary to assess this game, as a far more simplistic view tells you all you need to know.
If someone had decided to leave their isolation bubble for the first time in nine months and take up watching football, they would never have suspected that Brentford were one division below Newcastle. Seeing the away side bring on an ageing relic of a centre forward, who hadn't scored for his team in close to a decade, would have been the final clue they needed to confirm their suspicions that Steve Bruce's men were the plucky Championship side aiming for a cup upset. Stick all your forwards on and hope for the best is the equivalent of spraying all of your aftershaves on and going out on the pull, despite being hideously ugly and having no craic whatsoever. That is all the analysis needed.
This Quarter Final never offered the occasion that it would have in a normal season and the prospect of progression to a Semi-Final was a similarly underwhelming thought. However, what it did offer was the very real prospect of further disappointment and a further nail in the coffin of Steve Bruce's managerial career at Newcastle United.
Cup progress has been suggested as the measure of improvement in Newcastle's almost identical seasons over the last three-and-a-half years but quarter finals ultimately mean nothing, unless they lead to finals. It is a stretch of the meaning of progress to fail at a slightly later stage.
In the space of ten days, Newcastle United played four teams from last season's Championship and won only once. It is the ultimate sign of stagnation and regression under this current ownership. It is the only evidence you need that this current combination of players, coaches and manager will take this club back down.
You can offer credit that the manager selected the strongest eleven available to him and suggest that this is him taking the competition more seriously than his predecessor but if that is the performance your strongest eleven can muster against lesser opposition then you have serious problems.
If this was supposed to distract from league mediocrity and offer the chance of romance and optimism in an utterly shit year, then it dramatically failed. Newcastle were awful from start to finish and played like the personification of long-COVID - lethargic, weak and struggling to concentrate on simple tasks.
The optimists tried to get the fan base up for this - a Quarter final, lads and lasses! A chance at our first semi in a generation (pun intended)! A Championship side! No Toney! Full strength Newcastle side! This is it! Get into them! Put aside your differences and focus on the opportunity of silverware for the first time in many of our lives! Or...
"Brentford are a good side and let’s hope we can play well enough to get through. We know how difficult it’ll be but let’s have a crack, let’s enjoy it, and see where we get to."
We played like he speaks and I have no interest in hearing what he has to say about this pathetic excuse of a performance. Get fucked, man.
Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.