In the past four years, Oxford United’s FA Cup record is identical record to Newcastle United’s. In fact, given that most of the cup games they have won in this period have been against sides in higher divisions than them, we can safely say that they have performed better than United (under Pardew, Carver and McClaren).
Furthermore, Oxford United have also won silverware more recently than us. They won the league cup in 1986, then known as the ‘Milk Cup’. Alas, they were denied the subsequent UEFA Cup place because of the ban on English clubs at the time. So, whilst this is a David vs Goliath of sorts, they are not a club to be disrespected this weekend.
Oxford find themselves mid-table in League 1 this season following promotion in the last. This is an impressive feat with Michael Appleton in charge, whose previous 3 jobs were Portsmouth, Blackpool and Blackburn. The state of all of those clubs either means he’s a last resort or one resilient bloke. The league season is pretty much over for them; with relegation pretty much avoided. This means that it really is the biggest game of their season on Saturday. They’ll be up for it.
Rafa’s United are therefore going to have to put in a performance as good as any this season to avoid falling into the Pardew trap of disrespecting the Cup. Our home crowd for the third round replay showed how much enthusiasm there still is for the cup in spite of the promotion campaign and Rafa will be just as keen to reach the fifth round.
I’ve said it before, but winning games tends to lead to winning more games. We lost more games (in fewer matches) this season after going out of the league cup than when we were in it. Cup runs breed confidence and momentum and we know Rafa gets that.
There will be rotations of course; we have a few key players to protect for the league as well as a few fringe players worthy of a run out. I’d like to see more of a couple of the young lads who played the third round replay at SJP. Barlaser in particular has big promise and seems most likely to get game time. Others on the fringe include Grant Hanley who hasn’t had a bad game for us yet and Lazaar who has had a few impressive run out in the cups this season.
We have to accept that Rafa will also bring in Matz Sels again. He’s having a torrid season but there is no point in his career dying on the bench in games like this. I can’t see him being around longer than this season but we may as well give the guy a break instead of killing his confidence further (the groans and Darlow chants don’t help). We all know Darlow is number one. He has absolutely earned it and is having a fantastic season. He’s not under threat if our other keeper gets a game in the cup, nearly every club does it!
Shelvey will be the difference today. Given that he got a free pass over the Christmas period he should be fit to play as many games as possible. We have three in a week again but the next two are at home, so resting him is unnecessary. I’d also expect Ritchie to play. Murphy was rested for the last cup game (mental isn’t it!) and with Mitro and Gayle still out, it will probably happen again so it will be Gouffran and or Perez upfront. After that, any selection of the remaining squad should be enough to win the game.
The prize of victory could be a juicy tie on the weekend of 18th February. Imagine the scenes as Jose Mourinho’s Man Utd arrive at SJP to meet Rafa’s United. The magic of the cup would be well and truly reborn in Newcastle and that is more than motivation to get behind a win this weekend!
SIMON CAMPBELL – Follow Simon on @simoncampbell1
Dogger, Si and Ben talk transfer window panic and FA cup. We’re then joined by two Oxford United fans who give us their view on the game at the weekend. Many thanks for to George from @Ntt20pod and Will for their time
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