When Steve Bruce took over as Newcastle United manager in the summer of 2019, he made a promise to fans of the club that he would take the domestic cup competitions seriously.
For a team that hadn't won a major domestic trophy since the FA Cup in 1955, it was a real statement of intent from the new manager, and one that was designed to win over a disillusioned fanbase still devastated by the departure of previous manager Rafael Benitez.
"Surely as a club we can win five games? If the draw is kind to you, like it was at Hull ... that’s got to an aim. Can we win a cup tie, can we do well in the League Cup or the FA Cup?
"That’s got to be an aim. It’s not just about staying in the division and being happy with that - that would be wrong."
Once a team famous for it's success in cup competitions, Newcastle's record, particularly since Mike Ashley bought the club in 2007, has been nothing short of diabolical. This was a team that had reached back-to-back FA Cup finals in 1998 and 1999 as well as semi-finals in 2000 and 2005.
However since Ashley has taken over it has been a different story. In the 12 years that followed, Newcastle United failed to get past the fourth round of the competition. They could hardly blame the luck of the draw either. Apart from losing to Chelsea in 2017-18 and Arsenal in 2007-08, they would have expected to progress past much of their opposition. In that time they have contrived to lose to Brighton and Hove Albion and Watford twice, Oxford United, Stevenage, West Bromwich Albion, Hull City and Leicester City. Hardly the biggest names in English football.
While Bruce had the luck of the draw, he got Newcastle United to the FA Cup quarter final for the first time since 2005 in his first season at the helm. They did it the hard way, needing replays to see off lower league opposition Rochdale and Oxford United, before beating an under strength West Bromwich Albion 3-2. But as previously highlighted, these were games Newcastle United might have lost in previous seasons.
Although they were ultimately outclassed by Manchester City in the quarter final, an inexplicable miss from Dwight Gayle when 1-0 down, could have turned the tie on its head. However Manchester City went straight up the other end and scored through Raheem Sterling, to put the tie to bed.
The recent thrashing of Morecambe will have been a breath of fresh air for supporters used to seeing their team flop against some of the weaker teams in cup competitions. It was a clinical performance with Bruce hailing the attitude of his players in the aftermath.
Bruce's side took full advantage of their kind draw, knowing that lower league opposition once again awaits them. Newcastle United now take on Newport County, with a place in the quarter finals at stake, a stage of the competition they haven't reached since losing to Hull City on penalties in the 2016-17 season.
Despite the criticism that Bruce has received from some of the Newcastle United fanbase since his tenure began, nobody should be too surprised by his success in the cup competitions, with him taking Hull City to the FA Cup final in 2014.
It was a game they really should have won, going 2-0 up after eight minutes, before eventually losing to Arsene Wenger's side 3-2 after extra time.
Bruce's attitude to the domestic competitions bodes well and Newcastle United might never have a better opportunity to end their domestic trophy drought. The congested nature of the season, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, will likely lead to some of the bigger sides in England focusing their attention on other priorities, which could open up an opportunity for a club like Newcastle United.
If Bruce could be the manager to break Newcastle United's long trophy drought it would finally drown out the voices of his remaining critics and secure him legendary status at the club he supported as a boy. If they defeat Newport County next week they will have a real chance of doing so.Published 25 Sep 2020, 10:40 IST