Hanley Hails 'First Class' Support
Written by Rory Mitchinson
Grant Hanley lauded the St. James' Park faithful as almost 50,000 packed in to see Newcastle United dismantle Preston North End en route to the last eight of the EFL Cup.
Aleksandar Mitrović and Mohamed Diamé each netted a brace against the Magpies' Sky Bet Championship rivals, with Matt Ritchie despatching a spot-kick and substitute Ayoze Pérez getting in on the act late on.
It was one-way traffic practically from the outset on a memorable night at Gallowgate, United already a goal up before the Lilywhites' Alan Browne saw red for a reckless challenge on Jack Colback midway through the first-half.
The scoreline could have been even more punishing, with Diamé firing off-target with the goal at his mercy on the stroke of half-time and Christian Atsu twice hitting the woodwork.
An attendance of 49,042 has been bettered only once for a League Cup tie at St. James' Park, with Hanley - a summer signing from Blackburn Rovers - in awe of the United support.
"The support here is unlike anything I've ever seen before," he told nufc.co.uk. "I've never experienced it before - it's unbelievable. Since I've been here, the fans have been first class, and it's a credit to them that they turn out in their numbers every week, home or away.
"There were however many thousand here again tonight - what a place to play football. It's a dream, really."
Hanley clocked up a full 90 minutes as Newcastle made sure of a place in the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup for only the second time since 1976.
The Scot admitted United could easily have scored any amount against ten-man North End - and insists that anything is possible as he and his teammates await news of their next opponents in the competition.
"With the chances we created - especially in the second-half - it could have been anything," he said. "Sometimes, games can be tricky when teams go down to ten men and just sit back, but even before the sending off, we felt comfortable.
"We're on a good run at the moment and we're playing with loads of confidence. Playing at home, we feel strong. There were lads coming into the team tonight who maybe haven't played as much and felt they had a point to prove, and I think they should all be proud.
"We're looking forward to the draw now, but in football, you can only control what you can control. What will be will be, and we'll just make sure we're ready for the next round.
"We're playing Preston again on Saturday, and they'll have their backs up after that kind of result so it will be a totally different game. For now, that's all that we're focussing on."
Hanley has yet to miss a minute of the Magpies' EFL Cup campaign, though he has found playing time slightly harder to come by in the Championship.
But, on the back of an assured display, the 24-year-old is hopeful he has staked a claim for a more regular place in Rafa Benítez's starting line-up.
"It's pleasing to keep another clean sheet - as a centre-half, that's your job, first and foremost," he said. "The lads are doing well at the moment, so it's difficult to ease your way into the side"
"But, I've been in this situation before and you just have to knuckle down and keep working hard in training, and keep working hard when you get a chance on the pitch. And hopefully, another opportunity will come."
It's pleasing to keep another clean sheet - as a centre-half, that's your job, first and foremost