NEWCASTLE: What a night. What a performance. What a team.
Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United continue to make history at St James’ Park, this time breaking a Carabao Cup hoodoo by finally reaching their first semifinal of the competition since the 1970s.
Goals from home hero Dan Burn and adopted Geordie Joelinton saw the Magpies fly past Leicester City and into the final four of the competition, just three games from an elusive first trophy of the PIF-financed era.
The draw for the final four, which will be a two-legged affair later this month, will be made on Wednesday, with the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City potentially lying in wait for the high-flying Magpies.
“Very much so. I’m delighted to achieve that,” said Howe about taking United to their first League Cup semi in 46 years.
“That is what we wanted pre-game, obviously, we were determined to try and get into the semifinal. Performance levels I thought were very, very good tonight. The players were excellent from start to finish and created a lot of chances today. Their goalkeeper played very well to keep us out for a period of time but gave a great performance.
“Getting to the semifinal is one thing but you want to get into the final and experience that. We know we have a huge test ahead of us, whoever we get. But we are just delighted to be in there.”
Team selection does the magic
Having been burned by his team selection at Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup at the weekend, Howe went with the tried and tested back on home turf, picking the same team who started at Arsenal last time out in the Premier League.
And much like that affair, this was also a tight encounter — but who was to expect anything less in a cup quarterfinal? Especially when the Magpies have lost every single one of their ties at this stage of the competition since making their only ever final, all the way back in 1976.
On Boxing Day the Magpies flew out of the blocks and blitzed the Foxes within eight first-half minutes, and they could easily have done the same on a special evening on Tyneside.
However, as has been the case, in recent weeks at least, United’s finishing in the first half went missing.
Newcastle’s man of the moment this campaign has been Miguel Almiron, his nine goals have taken the Magpies into the top four of the Premier League — and he was instrumental in wresting control of this encounter.
His ball to Joe Willock, then a cross, saw Sean Longstaff blaze over the bar with the goal at his mercy, with just two minutes on the clock. The Paraguayan then teed up Bruno Guimaraes who was wasteful with a shot from 25 yards.
With the crowd swirling thousands of scarves and flags over their heads, the players responded with their performances. On fire, chances flowed as Bruno again fired wide when well placed, Longstaff drew a save from the impressive Danny Ward and Callum Wilson saw a goal-bound shot deflected wide.
It took half an hour for the Foxes to show signs of life and get to grips with United. Although they did extinguish many Newcastle advances and craft a few of their own before the break.
A ball deflected kindly for Marc Albrighton on the United left and his first-time ball into Patson Daka caused alarm among the usually stern Newcastle defense, but the Zambian’s cutback was poorly executed with Harvey Barnes waiting. Kieran Trippier, as he so often does, mopped up the danger.
After the break it was nip and tuck between the two sides again, although the home side showed more intent.
The impressive Joelinton struck the foot of a post with a low drive and fellow goalscorer Burn would have been disappointed not to ripple the net when Trippier delivered a free-kick right on to his towering frame.
Around the hour, though, the floodgates opened — and it was a monumental moment for born and bred Geordie Burn. A cushioned pass by Joelinton found the towering left-back in the Foxes’ area, and one touch with his left, some trademark strength and a sprinkling of pace saw him open up a yard for a shot, and with a swipe of his right he found the bottom corner of Ward’s net.
Lift off at St James’.
The goal sparked the visitors into life again and Brendan Rodgers decided to throw the kitchen sink at the Magpies, with Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho on to bolster their attacking lines.
But all it did was open up spaces and Joelinton was in no mood not to take his opportunity as he strode through to tuck home left-footed for 2-0.
‘We’re going to Wembley’
Cries of “We’re going to Wembley” could be heard from Hadrian’s Wall to North Yorkshire as the city erupted in collective joy.
Vardy had a couple of late chances to reduce the arrears but fluffed his lines as United saw out time and booked their place in the hat.
“We knew this game was very important because we went out of the FA Cup and we had to give a reaction,” said skipper Trippier.
“I think we did that from the first whistle. Bruno says we can rest a little but I don’t think so. We’ve got a big game coming up soon. From my very first game against Cambridge it was a sellout and the supporters here are brilliant.
“They follow us in numbers, they sell out all of the time and it’s been a long time for success at this club and all these lads, we want to make them proud and give everything on the pitch, which we have done this season. Long may that continue. It would mean everything (to win silverware). We just need to believe as a team, focus on the next game and take it a game at a time. The Premier League is relentless and there are some fantastic teams in this competition. We just focus on the next game.”
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