Newcastle United 4 Rochdale 1
- Graham Scott
Newcastle United eased into the Fourth Round of the FA Cup with a clinical win over Rochdale at St. James’ Park.
The Magpies took the lead, courtesy of Eoghan O’Connell’s own goal, in the 17th minute of the game – the exact time they opened the scoring at Spotland in the initial tie ten days ago. On this occasion, however, there was to be no repeat of their profligacy in front of goal, as Steve Bruce’s side established an unassailable advantage by the half-hour mark.
Matty Longstaff notched their second shortly after O’Connell’s blunder, before Miguel Almirón continued his impressive start to 2020 by cutting out goalkeeper Robert Sánchez’s stray ball and rifling home.
A satisfying evening for Newcastle was rounded off by Joelinton, who struck for the first time at St. James’ with eight minutes of normal time to play. The League One outfit managed to pull a goal back through defender MJ Williams, but the Magpies’ passage to the Fourth Round – and a clash with Oxford United – had been secured for some time by that point.
Almirón had twice struck the woodwork prior to the Magpies’ opening goal. The Paraguayan fired narrowly wide after gathering Christian Atsu’s lay-off in the tenth minute, before seeing a deflected strike hit the base of the far post after Isaac Hayden’s cross was only half-cleared. A breakthrough was not long in coming, though, as O’Connell inadvertently diverted Matt Ritchie’s in-swinging cross into his own net. As good a ball in as it was, it still appeared a needless error from the Dale defender.
Having failed to make their early advantage count ten days ago, United swiftly turned their lead into a more commanding one. Rochdale failed to deal with another cross from Ritchie, with Williams bundling the ball straight into Longstaff’s path. And the Magpies midfielder made no mistake from close range, taking a neat touch before sending Sánchez the wrong way.
Newcastle’s third, which arrived after 26 minutes, also came gift-wrapped as the third-tier side shot themselves in the foot again. They precariously tried to play out from the back – despite United having numbers in and around the penalty area – and Sánchez passed the ball straight to the lurking Almirón, who took full advantage of the ‘keeper’s mistake by producing an emphatic finish.
Emil Krafth passed up the chance to add another for the Magpies before the break, while Florian Lejeune and Joelinton both tried their luck from range as Bruce’s side smelled further blood. They nearly shipped one at the other end early into the second half, though, as Jimmy Ryan’s fierce volley scaled the target by a whisker.
Still, United remained firmly in the ascendancy, and their hefty cushion allowed Bruce to hand a first-team debut to Tom Allan, the club’s leading scorer at Under-23 level this term. The Magpies eased off a little as the game headed into its final quarter, though Sean Longstaff – still, at 22, a relative youngster himself – let fly from distance, as did Jonjo Shelvey – returning to action as a substitute after a two-game lay-off.
The Magpies’ scoring wasn’t complete just yet, though, with what was perhaps the game’s most memorable moment arriving in the 82nd minute. Andy Carroll – a replacement for Almirón – set Allan away down the right, and the youngster put the ball on a plate for Joelinton, who slotted home before making a beeline for the United dugout to celebrate with Bruce and the rest of the club’s coaching staff.
Although the damage had long been done, Rochdale kept plugging away and were able to give their sizeable travelling support something to celebrate. Aaron Wilbraham – whose strike at Spotland had set up a second meeting between the two sides – teed up Williams just inside the area, and the defender’s low-struck effort took a nick off the far post before hitting the net.
There was still time for Carroll to clip the woodwork as the Magpies nearly re-established their four-goal advantage, but on a night where one striker ended a long wait for a goal, another was made to hang on a little while more.