Newcastle United 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
- Kevin Friend
A late Matt Ritchie penalty spared Newcastle United’s blushes and set up a Third Round replay against Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup.
The Magpies looked to be limping out of the competition after a largely forgettable display at St. James’ Park, with Bradley Dack’s bullet header the difference between the two sides with five minutes to play.
But, substitute Ayoze Pérez won the Magpies a spot kick after a determined run into the 18-yard box, and wide-man Ritchie sent David Raya the wrong way to give Rafa Benítez’s side another bite of the cherry at Ewood Park.
Though Blackburn won a flurry of corners early on, it was United who had the first meaningful chance of the game. Ritchie checked inside and delivered a cross towards the pack post, and Joselu brought a parry out of Raya with an acrobatic attempt. Kenedy – deployed in the No. 10 role – then picked up the pieces and took aim, but Rovers’ keeper stuck out a leg to divert the ball wide.
Tony Mowbray’s side had a sight of goal themselves five minutes later, with Dack leaving Craig Conway’s inviting cross for Danny Graham, whose scuffed effort failed to seriously trouble Freddie Woodman. Rovers saw two more corners come and go before almost being undone on the counter, with Ritchie’s stinging drive rebounding kindly for Joselu after Raya’s spill, only for the frontman to be challenged at the last moment.
That – itself less than 20 minutes in – was really the last instance of significance during a dour first half, though another Rovers corner – delivered by Charlie Mulgrew – very nearly dropped in at the back post just before the whistle.
Early into the second half, however, another dead ball situation sparked the move which led to the opener. Defender Mulgrew – who twice struck winning goals against Newcastle during the Magpies’ victorious Championship campaign two years ago – played a free kick along the floor to Elliott Bennett on the opposite flank. The full back worked the ball onto his right foot and swung in a fine delivery from deep, with Dack ghosting between two defenders before producing a fine header to beat Woodman.
On 65 minutes, Mulgrew’s incredible goalscoring record against United almost continued, with Javier Manquillo forced into a last-ditch header to steer the Scot’s effort away from goal after a Conway corner from the left. Then, with the game finally coming to life, Raya produced a fine low stop to keep out substitute Jonjo Shelvey’s header, before Florian Lejeune’s follow-up was blocked.
That, however, appeared to be a false dawn as far as United were concerned, with their attacking threat quickly receding once more. Though Ritchie saw a deflected effort hit the side-netting, Blackburn soon got a grip of things again, and looked comfortable as the quarter of an hour arrived.
But, with just five minutes of normal time remaining, they gift-wrapped the Magpies a chance to draw level. Pérez drew a foul from Corry Evans six yards from goal, and Ritchie stepped up to fire the resultant spot kick into the bottom corner of the net.
Another deflected Ritchie strike trickled into Raya’s hands as United looked to complete the turnaround, but – in truth – that would have flattered the much-changed Magpies, who were disappointing for the most part.