APPLETON: THIS IS BEST UPSET YET
Beating Magpies tops the Emirates
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.”
KEPT QUIET: Aleksandar Mitrovic was subdued. Inset: Curtis Nelson scores