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