Beat­ing Mag­pies tops the Emi­rates

The Football League Paper - - FA CUP FOURTH ROUND - By Scott Wil­son

MICHAEL Ap­ple­ton knows a thing or two about cup up­sets. The Ox­ford United man­ager led Black­burn Rovers to an FA Cup fifth-round vic­tory at Arse­nal in 2013 when they were a Cham­pi­onship team, and also guided Ox­ford to an EFL Cup win over Rother­ham ear­lier this sea­son.

But hav­ing watched his side com­pre­hen­sively out­class a New­cas­tle team with high hopes of win­ning pro­mo­tion to the Premier League, Ap­ple­ton quickly hailed his lat­est gi­antkilling feat as the most sat­is­fy­ing of the lot.

Yes, Rafael Ben­itez made nine changes and gave the im­pres­sion he couldn’t get out of the FA Cup quickly enough. But that shouldn’t de­tract from the qual­ity of Ox­ford’s vic­tory, which was se­cured thanks to sec­ond-half goals from Kane Hem­mings, Cur­tis Nel­son and Toni Martinez.

New­cas­tle missed a sec­ond­half penalty through Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic, but could have no complaints about yet an­other early cup exit. Ox­ford, mid-ta­ble in League One, fully mer­ited their place in the last 16.

Ap­ple­ton said: “We’re de­lighted. It’s a fan­tas­tic achieve­ment for the club. We thought it was on when the sec­ond goal went in, but it was the save from the penalty that gave the play­ers more be­lief than ac­tu­ally go­ing ahead in the game.

“My cel­e­bra­tion was cer­tainly big­ger! It gave the play­ers a mas­sive be­lief that it might be their day.

“The fact they made the changes doesn’t de­tract from what we’ve achieved. You only have to look at what they had on the bench – Rafa might dis­agree, but I think they’ve got a Premier League squad.

“If that side was ply­ing its trade in the Premier League, in terms of the squad and what he’s got avail­able, I be­lieve they would be in the top half.

“For me per­son­ally, beat­ing New­cas­tle is prob­a­bly a big­ger achieve­ment than it was beat­ing Arse­nal in the fifth round at the Emi­rates with Black­burn, even though we’re still the only team to do it (dur­ing Arsene Wenger’s reign).”

Ox­ford rode their luck some­what dur­ing the first half, with Si­mon East­wood mak­ing two fine saves to deny Mitro­vic, and the hosts claimed the lead within two min­utes of the restart as a short-cor­ner rou­tine ended with Chey Dunk­ley head­ing the ball back across the area for Hem­mings to slot home.

East­wood’s penalty save from Mitro­vic was cru­cial – the keeper flung him­self to his right af­ter Mitro­vic had earned the spot-kick him­self by draw­ing a foul Phil Ed­wards – and Ox­ford dou­bled their lead with ten min­utes left as Nel­son headed home from a cor­ner.

The score­line be­came even more em­phatic late on as Martinez glanced home Rob Hall’s right-wing cross.

Ben­itez said: “We didn’t un­der­es­ti­mate Ox­ford. We didn’t take our chances in the first half, then we missed a penalty, and they took the chances that came their way.

“We didn’t mark prop­erly from the cor­ners and gave the ball away. You have to give credit to them be­cause they were fight­ing for the re­sult, but we made too many mis­takes.

“We had to make the changes. It is very clear. I said be­fore the game that if we were go­ing to go through, it had to be with the squad, and if we couldn’t do that, then we couldn’t.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

KEPT QUIET: Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic was sub­dued. In­set: Cur­tis Nel­son scores

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