Bruce challenges Magpies to seize 'wonderful opportunity'
Written by Rory Mitchinson
Steve Bruce is hoping Newcastle United can take full advantage of a “wonderful opportunity” to progress to the last 16 of the FA Cup for the first time since 2006.
Shay Given, Nobby Solano and Alan Shearer were in the team the last time the Magpies won a Fourth Round game in the competition, with Michael Chopra and Scott Parker on target as Graeme Souness’ charges saw off League Two outfit Cheltenham Town at Whaddon Road.
14 years later and it’s another lower-league side, Oxford United, who stand in Newcastle’s way. The U’s are currently riding high in the third tier, sitting just six points off the top, and knocked the Magpies out of the FA Cup at the Kassam Stadium in 2016/17.
On Saturday, though, the overwhelming majority of those inside a sold-out St. James’ Park will be backing Bruce’s side, and the United head coach is desperate to provide supporters with a run in the competition to remember.
“It’s a full house, which is quite remarkable,” he said. “(Fourth) Round of the FA Cup and, with no disrespect to Oxford, we’ve got 52,000, which is quite unbelievable. I’ll play as strong as I can and try and get into the next round. I said that from the moment I walked through the door. Who knows – can we go on and have a cup run? We’ve got a wonderful opportunity. We have to respect Oxford for what they are, and they turned us over a couple of years ago – handsomely. And we saw it again in the FA Cup last night (with Tranmere’s win over Watford), and we must guard against that.
“Look, it’s not everybody’s priority. But I think I’ve been proved right in the respect of where Newcastle sit with it. We’re not going to win the Premier League, so what can we win? We’re a Premier League team who could win the FA Cup. We know we’ve got to get a couple of draws that are nice to us and kind to us, but we’re capable, and that’ll not change.
“The city and the supporters would like nothing more than a cup run; they haven’t had it for years. Let’s see if we can get past (Oxford) and be in the last 16. That would be great.”
Of those who figured in Newcastle’s upset at the Kassam three years ago, only Isaac Hayden and Matt Ritchie are likely to feature against the U’s again on Saturday. Oxford will be fielding a much-changed XI themselves, with all of three of their goalscorers that day having moved on and goalkeeper Simon Eastwood the only player in line to face the Magpies for a second time.
However, no matter what the personnel, Bruce is wary of Karl Robinson’s side rising to the occasion at St. James’, reaffirming that his players must produce exactly the same levels that they did against Chelsea on home soil a week ago.
“As I’ve always said, it’s the beauty of the FA Cup; the lower club will always raise their game and, for one game in particular, they can play at the level that we can play at,” he said. “We hope we can play at our maximum and the one thing we’ll have to match is their work-rate and endeavour. If we don’t and we take them lightly, then you come unstuck. And we’ve seen it many, many times over the hundred years the FA Cup has been going. In this country in particular, we love the underdog, so we have to be wary of that and perform. If we perform well, then I’m quietly confident.”