City re­gain mojo to reach semi-fi­nals while Bruce misses ‘unique’ sup­port

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Luke Ed­wards

Of all the matches to have been staged be­hind closed doors since foot­ball re­turned to our tele­vi­sion screens, this felt like the most point­less. A bril­liant and fas­ci­nat­ing FA Cup quar­ter-fi­nal re­duced to a te­dious ex­hi­bi­tion of Manch­ester City’s mag­nif­i­cence.

It is sorely tempt­ing to de­clare that it would have been bet­ter if it had not been played at all, the out­come left un­known, a ques­tion unan­swered, a des­ti­na­tion un­reached.

As good as City were and will con­tinue to be under Pep Guardi­ola, de­spite los­ing their Premier League crown to Liver­pool, this was not a game even they can have felt mas­sive joy in win­ning. It was not a test of char­ac­ter or even class, it was a for­mal­ity, al­though Guardi­ola, whose side al­ready have the League Cup under their belts, can still aim for a tre­ble.

“Al­ways it [the FA Cup] is an in­cred­i­ble tro­phy and it gives us an ex­tra bonus,” he said. “We need two more vic­to­ries to qual­ify for Cham­pi­ons League. But we have two com­pe­ti­tions we can win. We made the first step to­day.”

As for New­cas­tle, they were al­ways likely to lose against a team who have not lost a do­mes­tic cup tie since they were beaten by Wi­gan in this com­pe­ti­tion way back in Fe­bru­ary 2018, but they could at least have gone down in front of a par­ti­san crowd, like glad­i­a­tors car­ried out on their shields or war­riors cut down on the charge.

Boil it down, clean, dis­in­fect it and in this foot­ball bub­ble, this is what you are left with. A for­mi­da­ble team, packed with world-class play­ers at eye-wa­ter­ing ex­pense, beat­ing an in­fe­rior one put to­gether on a far less ex­trav­a­gant bud­get. This was not a glo­ri­ous de­feat, it was death by do­mes­tic ac­ci­dent. A sad and sorry end to what had re­sem­bled some­thing like a real ad­ven­ture be­fore lock­down.

New­cas­tle sup­port­ers have waited 14 years to see their team in an FA Cup quar­ter-fi­nal and, af­ter all those years of long­ing to let rip, of want­ing to scream, sing, shout and roar in sup­port of their team, this is what they were served – a dish so bland it bordered on un­palat­able. “When you’re play­ing these big teams in the FA Cup you need your crowd with you,” said New­cas­tle man­ager Steve Bruce. “It was dif­fi­cult, it was ster­ile, the en­vi­ron­ment it is in, but es­pe­cially for us be­cause our fans give us some­thing unique.”

In­side this empty arena, it was hor­ri­ble to watch. There was more than just an empti­ness, there was a void of mean­ing. This was a week­end (or rather it would have been back in those pre-Covid 19 days of March) when Ty­ne­side would have throbbed with the sort of un­wa­ver­ing sup­port that would have show­cased this sta­dium and city in all its glory. What re­placed it on a sur­pris­ingly chilly June evening was a kick­about mas­querad­ing as a Cup game, a joy­less non-spec­ta­cle that made you feel queasy when com­pared to what it should have been.

If you think of all the in­gre­di­ents needed for a clas­sic FA Cup tie, this had ab­so­lutely none of them. There was no drama, no sense of oc­ca­sion and no ex­cite­ment. There was no noise, no ten­sion, no thrills, no hint of magic. There has never been a quar­ter-fi­nal like this be­fore and hopefully there will not be again.

Quite frankly, if a com­pe­ti­tion which has earned its place in the na­tion’s heart be­cause we crave shocks and up­sets is going to be played be­hind closed doors again next sea­son, do not bother play­ing it at all.

New­cas­tle had not lost to Manch­ester City at St James’ Park for two years, beat­ing them 2-1 last sea­son and draw­ing with them 2-2 ear­lier in this cam­paign.

City could be unset­tled and un­nerved on Ty­ne­side, but this was a dull pro­ces­sion. It was a box ticked, an arm­chair au­di­ence vaguely en­ter­tained on a Sun­day teatime, but you doubt any­one truly en­joyed this, not even the City fans watch­ing at home.

Guardi­ola’s side were ut­terly dom­i­nant, en­joy­ing more than 80 per cent pos­ses­sion in the first half as New­cas­tle did noth­ing more than de­fend. City had ap­plied con­stant pres­sure on the New­cas­tle goal when Fabian Schar stupidly shoved Gabriel Je­sus in the back in­side the area and Kevin De Bruyne con­verted the penalty.

De Bruyne said he would rel­ish his ap­par­ent new role as City’s permanent penalty-taker, but ad­mit­ted his side should have scored more.

“We’ve had a few prob­lems this year and the gaffer asked me to step up against Madrid and I scored a cou­ple, so if I’m the taker I will try,” he said. “We cre­ated enough chances to score more goals.”

The vis­i­tors barely cel­e­brated the goal. New­cas­tle were poor, with­out their mob be­hind them, ev­ery­thing felt forced. They had come to con­tain and frus­trate but now be­hind, the game felt lost. Per­haps it all would have been dif­fer

Slick City: Ra­heem Ster­ling (above) curls in the sec­ond af­ter Kevin De Bruyne’s opener from the penalty spot (right)

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