Newcastle United will host Cambridge United at St. James’ Park on Saturday afternoon as they look to secure a place in the next round of the FA Cup.

Newcastle have lifted the FA Cup on six occasions over the years but last won the competition all the way back in 1955, with the record serving as a reminder of the club’s decline in recent years. Most recently, they crashed out in the third round of the 2020-21 edition against 14-time champions Arsenal, and they have not advanced past the quarter-finals since 2005.

With the chapter of the previous regime closed following the takeover, the Toon faithful will hope the arrival of new owners marks a change in the club’s approach towards domestic silverware. However, Eddie Howe’s side have bigger fish to fry in the Premier League as they try to beat the drop. The 1-1 draw against Manchester United was a good note to end 2021 on, and they will be hoping to build on it.

The club’s new owners plan to spend big in the January transfer window in order to avoid relegation from the Premier League. But Eddie Howe’s men have a task at hand on the St. James’ Park turf. Newcastle have only one win across all competitions this term, and Saturday’s FA Cup third-round encounter against Cambridge United, without a doubt, gives them an excellent opportunity to break the curse.

Cambridge, meanwhile, battled their way past Northampton Town and Exeter City to reach this stage of the competition. The U’s are finding life difficult in League One after being promoted from League Two last term and are sitting 16th in the table.

They will be heading into the fixture off the back of a 0-0 draw against Portsmouth last time out, and with Newcastle’s absentee list possibly stretching into the double figures once again, the Amber Army can hope to claim a huge scalp at St. James’ Park.

Team News & Tactics

Newcastle United

Karl Darlow, Ciaran Clark, Joe Willock and Matt Ritchie were all believed to have tested positive for COVID over the festive break, but all four could potentially return here following the completion of their self-isolation periods. However, the after-effects on their fitness remains unknown.

It remains to be seen if Newcastle can register new signing Kieran Trippier in time to be available for this clash. Even then, he is likely to feature off the bench. Paul Dummett, Isaac Hayden, Callum Wilson, Federico Fernandez and Jamal Lewis all remain out of contention through injury, while wingers Ryan Fraser and Allan Saint-Maximin have both just recovered and are unlikely to be risked here.

There are also doubts regarding the availability of central defender Fabian Schar as he continues to recover from a minor knock. Javier Manquillo’s one-game suspension will carry over to his side’s next Premier League game. As such, the Spanish full-back should start on the left-hand side of the backline, with Jacob Murphy taking his place on the opposite flank.

With Martin Dubravka likely to be given a rest and deputy Karl Darlow unavailable, 24-year-old Freddie Woodman will be handed an opportunity between the sticks for the Magpies. Guarding the young shot-stopper in front of goal will be the makeshift centre-back pairing of Jamaal Lascelles and Emil Krafth, who is usually deployed as a right-back.

Sean Longstaff, Jeff Hendrick and Jonjo Shelvey will operate as the central midfielders for Newcastle, with Miguel Almiron and Joelinton taking up positions out wide. Veteran marksman Dwight Gayle will lead the charge for the Toon up top and will carry most of the goal-scoring burden in light of the absences of Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin.

Probable Lineup (4-5-1): Woodman; Murphy, Krafth, Lascelles, Manquillo; Almiron, Hendrick, Shelvey, Longstaff, Joelinton; Gayle

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Cambridge United

Mark Bonner’s side enters the fixture as huge underdogs, and their task has not been made any easier, with them having to contend with several key players missing through injuries. Lloyd Jones will be one of those absentees for the visitors with a groin problem keeping the defender out.

Leon Davies has already departed the club after his contract expired, while Greg Taylor and Shilow Trace are sidelined for the foreseeable future due to injury. Conor Masterson has also returned to his parent club Queens Park Rangers.

The U’s will be bolstered by the availability of Liam O’Neil, who has taken part in some training sessions this week and is in contention for a start. Midfielder Sam Smith was sent off for two bookable offences in the draw with Portsmouth and will miss this one, potentially opening up a berth for Jack Lankester.

Assuming the 21-year-old Lankester is not counted upon to fill the void left by Smith’s suspension, the U’s may lean on the experience of 39-year-old former Norwich playmaker Wes Hoolahan.

Tactically, Bonner has largely preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation. The visitors will have to stay narrow, in a low-block to reduce open spaces for Newcastle’s attackers. Offensively, they will rely on joint top-scorer Joe Ironside to produce the goods in the final third with minimal service because clear-cut chances will be few and far between against a superior opposition.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Mitov; Williams, Iredale, Okedina, Dunk; O’Neil, Digby; Hoolahan, May, Brophy; Ironside

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Key Stats

  • This is the first ever FA Cup meeting between Cambridge United and Newcastle United, and first in any domestic competition since 1993.
  • The two sides have met 16 times in league games over the years, with Newcastle winning nine and drawing four of those previous encounters, the most recent being a 3-0 Newcastle win in the second-tier in April 1993.
  • This season, Cambridge have netted seven goals in the FA Cup and scored at least 2 goals in all of their games. They can again be confident of scoring against a porous Newcastle backline.
  • Cambridge have progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup only once in the last 21 seasons, doing so in 2014/15, where they forced a replay against Manchester United after playing out a spirited 0-0 draw.
  • As a Premier League side, the Magpies have progressed in their last five FA Cup ties against opposition from a lower division. Still, they needed replays against Rochdale and Oxford United in the 2019/20 campaign.

Player to Watch

Joelinton

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The Brazilian striker, who signed from Hoffenheim for a whopping £40 million fee back in the summer of 2019, has been completely transformed since Eddie Howe arrived at St. James’ Park in November. Having previously underwhelmed as a striker and shifted to a wide role with varying degrees of success under Steve Bruce’s reign, the Brazilian youth international seems to be thriving in a new box-to-box midfield role under Howe.

Joelinton gained a lot of plaudits for his recent performance in the Magpies’ 1-1 draw with Manchester United in December. He will be vying to put another all-action display here but could be forced to shift out on left to provide the width amidst multiple absences. He will be aiming to make valuable contributions to help his team progress through to the next round.

Prediction

Newcastle United 3-1 Cambridge United

Cambridge fans will be enthusiastic to see their team set foot on the Premier League grass, but their euphoria will be short-lived once Newcastle’s attacking talents get into their rhythm.

Against a leaky and makeshift Magpies’ backline, the U’s could be optimistic of their chances of scoring. Being winless in their last three games, however, it is hard to envisage Cambridge causing an upset here considering the disparity in quality between the two teams. The Hard Tackle predicts a comfortable 3-1 Newcastle win in front of a buoyant full house expected at St. James’ Park.

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