Newcastle United avoid another upset in FA Cup

BLACKBURN, England (AP) – Newcastle advanced to the fourth round of the FA Cup early yesterday, though coach Rafa Benitez doesn’t seem too keen on making a deep run in the competition.

By beating second-tier Blackburn 4-2 after extra time in a third-round replay, Newcastle earned only a fifth FA Cup victory in the past 11 seasons and set up a home match against fellow top-flight side Watford on January 26.

Benitez might see that as more of a distraction than an opportunity, with Newcastle currently fighting a relegation battle in the Premier League. And he has suggested that, like in both games against Blackburn, he will play his reserves in the FA Cup going forward.

“We have a squad that is trying to get through,” Benitez said pointedly, “and if we can do it the same way in the next round we will be pleased with that.”

Benitez has acknowledged the FA Cup is not a priority because he feels a heavyweight team with a deeper squad, like Manchester City, Chelsea or Manchester United, will win it. A run in the famous knockout competition clogs up the schedule, in Benitez’s opinion, and jeopardises the top-flight status for a team like Newcastle.

Newcastle United’s Callum Roberts (R) scores a goal during the Emirates FA Cup third round replay football match between Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, Blackburn early yesterday. – AP

So the sight of two defenders – Ciaran Clark and the player he replaced, Jamaal Lascelles – getting injured at Ewood Park will be a big concern for Benitez days before a much bigger game in his eyes, a home league match against fellow relegation contender Cardiff. Newcastle are in third-to-last place, one spot behind Cardiff.

Spanish forwards Joselu and Ayoze Perez scored extra-time goals to finally push Newcastle past Blackburn, which drew 1-1 at the start of the month to earn a replay.

The visitors had gone 2-0 ahead thanks to goals by 21-year-old local players, with Sean Longstaff scoring off a deflected shot inside the first minute and Callum Roberts adding a second in the 22nd minute. They were the players’ first goals for the club.

Blackburn went into halftime on level terms through goals by Adam Armstrong, a former Newcastle player, and Darragh Lenihan.

Newcastle will look to get beyond the fourth round for the first time since 2006, a year before divisive owner Mike Ashley bought the club.

The northeast team avoided becoming the fifth team – after Fulham, Leicester, Cardiff and Huddersfield – to lose to a side from a lower division in the third round.

In other replays early yesterday, third-tier Shrewsbury scored three goals from the 71st minute to rally to a 3-2 win over second-tier Stoke and set up a match against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the team that knocked out Liverpool.