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Extra-time double sends Newcastle crashing out of Capital One Cup
WHEN Newcastle United board members Lee Charnley and John Irving attended a fans' forum earlier this season, they admitted the cup competitions were 'not a priority' when posited against the importance of finishing in the top ten in the league. After last night, at least they have one less distraction to concern them.
It might not have been the embarrassment some had feared, and for long periods of a largely sterile game against Manchester City, it was Newcastle who looked most likely to reach the Capital One Cup quarter-finals.
But extra-time goals from Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko ended that idea, and for the seventh season in succession, the Magpies have failed to reach the last eight of the League Cup.
It is a desperate record – particularly when you consider that League Two Bradford City made it all the way to the final last season – and for all that last night's battling display tempered some of the anger that had accompanied Sunday's derby defeat at Sunderland, the odds on this being yet another trophy-less season on Tyneside have shortened considerably.
Perhaps a crowd of fewer than 34,000 suggests the Capital One Cup is of minimal importance to Newcastle's supporters too, although much of the apathy is surely attributable to a growing disconnect between the Magpies' fan base and both manager Alan Pardew and the rest of the Mike Ashley regime.
Pardew could have done with a decent cup run to strengthen his position, but having spent most of the summer talking up the importance of chasing silverware, he must now rely on the FA Cup to improve a wretched knock-out record.
The need to progress against City was posited against a desire to make changes, but while the end result might have gone against Pardew, he got the balance just about right.
While he left out arguably his three most creative forces – Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Loic Remy – he promoted players with a point to prove in the shape of Vurnon Anita, Shola Ameobi and Papiss Cisse. All three played reasonably well.
He also reverted to a traditional 4-4-2 formation, and it was telling that his side immediately appeared more solid and balanced than it often does when he adopts the more fashionable 4-2-3-1 system in the Premier League. Sometimes, the simplest things are the best.
Ironically, Newcastle became less threatening when Cabaye and Ben Arfa were introduced, although neither side was exactly peppering the goalmouth on a night of limited excitement.
The Magpies were solid enough in midfield, with the underrated Anita returning to partner Cheik Tiote, but there was little in the way of free-flowing football.
Their best chance of the first half came on the half-hour mark, but while Shola Ameobi did well to squeeze in a shot after Sissoko's attempted effort had been blocked, Costel Pantilimon was able to turn the ball around the post without too much fuss.
Ameobi had the ball in the net moments later, but the effort was rightly disallowed as he had strayed offside before turning home Cisse's scuffed shot.
With Anita also volleying wide after Dedryck Boyata failed to clear his lines, Newcastle enjoyed their best spell of the evening as half-time approached, dominating possession and denying their opponents any time on the ball.
City were disappointing for the opening hour. Sunday's dramatic late reverse at Chelsea was their third away defeat in the league, and for all that he has an abundance of attacking talent at his disposal, Pellegrini is yet to fashion a side that combines durability with invention on its travels.
Dzeko barely touched the ball for long periods, Negredo looked ill suited to the creative 'number ten' role and Jesus Navas was well shackled by the recalled Massadio Haidara.
James Milner was his usual industrious self, but if the former Newcastle midfielder is your greatest goal threat, you're not having a particularly successful night.
The visitors did not threaten Tim Krul's goal until the 63rd minute, and by that stage, Anita had gone close again with a low drive that was well gathered by Pantilimon.
In part, the vistors' lack of threat was down to an improved display from Yanga-Mbiwa, although the Frenchman's performance was undermined when he erred in extra-time.
City should have broken the deadlock before then, and the danger was primarily of Newcastle's own making. Krul unnecessarily chased from his line in an attempt to intercept a long ball that sailed over Paul Dummett's head, Jesus Navas beat him to it, but while the Spaniard did brilliantly to keep the ball alive and roll it back to Milner, the England international curled over with an empty net gaping. Admittedly, the angle was acute, but it was still a dreadful miss.
Dzeko headed Navas' cross wide shortly after, and with Negredo chipping into the side-netting after a surging run into the area, the final 15 minutes of normal time saw City enjoy much their best spell of the game.
Pardew introduced Cabaye and Ben Arfa in an attempt to wrest back some momentum, but while Cisse's angled drive threatened a late winner, the game headed into extra-time without a breakthrough.
It should have come within two minutes of the restart, but Pantilimon thwarted Cisse with a save that suggests Hart had better start planning for an extended spell out of the side.
Ben Arfa's chipped through ball sent Cisse scampering clear, but the Manchester City goalkeeper instinctively flung out his right hand to keep the scoresheet blank.
It was a crucial intervention, as seven minutes later, the visitors took the lead. The goal was remarkably simple given the 99 minutes of toil that had preceded it, with Dzeko surging past Anita to deliver a low centre, and Negredo stealing ahead of Yanga-Mbiwa to turn it home.
Six minutes after that, and any hope of a Newcastle comeback was extinguished. Milner dissected the Newcastle defence with an excellent through ball, and Dzeko rounded Krul before slotting home.
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