Oxford United continued their FA Cup run with a giant-killing – and deserved – win against Newcastle United on Saturday. Perhaps unfairly overshadowed by wins by Lincoln City and Wolverhampton Wanderers against lofty opposition on the same day, Oxford’s victory in front of a capacity Kassam Stadium crowd takes them into the FA Cup fifth round for the first time in 23 years. Goals from Kane Hemmings, Curtis Nelson and debutant Toni Martinez capped an impressive afternoon for the U’s – as well as a superb day out for the Yellows’ fans.
It was a remarkable display from Oxford, in particular in the ambition shown by the underdogs in starting the game on the front foot. After a scrappy opening ten minutes, Oxford grew into the game and just shaded the first half in terms of territory, although Newcastle perhaps had the better of the chances, exploiting space in the Oxford backline on the break. Goalkeeper Simon Eastwood, man-of-the-match for Oxford, denied Aleksandar Mitrovic twice with his legs, and Newcastle would perhaps have felt a little aggrieved not to lead at half-time. Eastwood’s heroics continued in the second half, saving well the penalty of Mitrovic, whose torrid afternoon was capped by a belligerent attitude to Oxford United players and subsequent persistent booing from the home fans. By the time he had missed the penalty, Oxford had already taken the lead, Hemmings converting a Chey Dunkley header at point-blank range to put the U’s fans in raptures.
Oxford’s victory takes them into the FA Cup fifth round for the first time in 23 years.
Things only improved for United. They grew into the game, restricting Newcastle to few chances, and were buoyed by the arrival of West Ham loanee Martinez on seventy minutes. Martinez’s direct running caused a tiring second-string Newcastle backline problems, and it was a corner he won which was diverted into the back of the net by Oxford centre-half Curtis Nelson. More was yet to come, with Oxford tormenting Newcastle at the back, and Rafa Benitez’s substitutes Matt Ritchie and Yoan Gouffran making little impact. Rob Hall’s second assist of the match landed perfectly on the head of Martinez, who steered the ball expertly past Mats Sels in the Newcastle goal before celebrating frantically in front of the home fans. Newcastle may have sent out their reserves, but Oxford United thoroughly deserved this victory. And watching the game right in front of the goal where Oxford had scored, it was hard not to join in the chants of the home supporters. ‘Ce sera, sera/Whatever will be, will be/We’re going to Wembley…’ With the club which had risen, Lazarus-like, from near-extinction now just two games away from the FA Cup semi-finals under the famous arch, it was food for thought. Stranger things have happened…