Cambridge United wrote themselves into FA Cup folklore with a 0-1 giant killing over Newcastle United at a sold-out St James’ Park...
A strike from Joe Ironside just short of the hour mark was enough to record a monumental scalp and ensure progression to the Fourth Round with a first victory over the Premier League outfit since 1984.
Head Coach Mark Bonner made the solitary change from the stalemate against Portsmouth five days earlier. Harvey Knibbs replaced the suspended Sam Smith as they prepared for battle in their resolute 4/2/3/1 style. For the Toon, they maintained a similar XI from their most recent outing against Manchester United – with new signing Kieran Trippier and Jacob Murphy entering the fold.
Plying their trade two levels below the hosts, the U’s dispatched League Two outfits Northampton Town and Exeter City en route to the highly-anticipated clash. The Magpies had endured a torrid campaign in the top flight thus far– languishing in 19th with just the solitary win. Nonetheless, a new era beckoned. Kicking off a crucial month on and off the pitch with a morale-boosting victory would spark reinvigoration. Both sides knew the mantra – when knockout competition occurs, form goes straight out of the window.
The first-ever FA Cup encounter between the sides started in entertaining fashion. Imposing, United conjured up the first dangerous opportunity on the 4th minute when, after excellent hold-up play from Ironside, Adam May picked his spot from 20 yards and cannoned a fierce attempt that flew inches wide of the crossbar.
Keen to draw first blood early, a well-worked move down the left flank minutes later handed Allan Saint-Maximin the time to take several touches before blazing wide of the left post from 25 yards.
Relishing the opportunity, the U’s continued to win the ball back impeccably as they presented a real no-nonsense approach. They tested the gloves of Martin Dubravka on 15 when George Williams was granted freedom down the right to head Jack Iredale’s deep cross towards the Slovakian.
Joelinton’s neat one-two in the middle of the park on the 20th minute carved the visitors open, but his first touch when in a one-on-one position evaded him as immense Paul Digby pressure forced too much power on his cutting through ball into the six-yard box.
After the U’s were dispossessed, Saint-Maximin made a marauding run forwards and played in Jacob Murphy who cushioned himself and struck a sweet attempt that Dimitar Mitov met with an applaudable diving save to deny an opener.
United tasted their first VAR decision on the 34th minute when a pinpoint Ironside header was on a plate for Harvey Knibbs who, before he could pull the trigger, fell after a tussle with Matt Ritchie. Despite penalty cries, the officials waved it away.
Oozing class every time he received the ball, attack Saint-Maximin cut inside on the right and slashed a venomous strike that Mitov pawed away. The resulting corner eventually fell to Fabian Schar who poked home before being rightfully ruled out for offside.
United’s inspired Bulgarian kept the deadlock intact once more on 39 when he matched Murphy’s attempt – a move which concluded in a free header missed by Sean Longstaff. The aforementioned winger, who had been handed a plethora of chances, had his best one yet on the stroke of the whistle as he hammered the crossbar from 20 yards.
It concluded a testing first period – one where, although they had rode their luck at times, the boys in amber had overcome exceptionally with composure and astute energy levels.
On the 49th minute, Murphy capitalised on a long ball and tucked home but just after he started to wheel away to celebrate, the linesman waved his flag for a clear offside decision.
With 56 minutes on the clock, Cambridge produced utter pandemonium in front of the travelling 4830 contingent. After a clever interception from Knibbs, Ironside pounced on a weak clearance to poke home with a delightful turn to send his side ahead against the richest football club in the world. Arms in air – they were in dreamland. Ecstasy almost turned into agony, however, when the decision went to their new nemesis VAR to decide if there was an offside position. Fortunately, it favoured the U’s.
As expected, the Magpies responded by throwing the kitchen sink at the visitors. Yet they remained stubborn and to a man their application was phenomenal. Joelinton tested his luck from 20 yards with an audacious drilled shot but Mitov gathered it on 74.
With five minutes on the clock, the U’s thought they’d secured the scalp when Jack Lankester was played through on goal before the substitute nestled a delightful shot under Dubravka. Frustratingly, it was dubbed offside. Despite that, they arguably looked the likeliest to get the next goal.
Jonjo Shelvey was then denied by two heroic blocks in the box on the cusp of added time. Joelinton then powered a header goal bound that Mitov pulled off the save of his life to deny a last-gasp leveller. In truth, that summed up the U’s afternoon – valiant. As Michael Salisbury blew his whistle for the final time, this set of players left the field heroes. A spine-tingling noise was bellowed from the travelling faithful. They were loud, they were proud, they were United.
Up next, the U’s will do battle with Portsmouth at the Abbey Stadium for a second consecutive game on Tuesday (11thJanuary) with a place in the quarter-finals of the Papa John’s Trophy at stake.
Newcastle United: Dubravka, Trippier, Krafth, Schar, Ritchie (Manquillo, 78), Shelvey, Longstaff (Almiron, 59), Murphy (Willock, 59), Joelinton, Fraser, Saint-Maximin
Subs Not Used: Gillespie, Dummett, Hendrick, Anderson, White
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Iredale, Dunk, Digby, May (O’Neil, 90+4), Knibbs (Lankester, 75), Worman (Hoolahan, 60), Brophy, Ironside
Subs Not Used: Gill, Bennett, Yearn, McConnell
Goalscorers: Ironside (56)
Bookings: Knibbs, Lankester
Referee: Michael Salisbury
Attendance: 51395 (4830 away fans)