The Tigers progressed to the 4th round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1989, winning at St James Park for the second time this season. We made 8 changes from Saturday's game at Everton and the response from the players selected was excellent and will give Phil Brown something to think about before Arsenal.
Starting with the 4-5-1 we've used recently, Duke started in goal, Doyle came in at right back with McShane in the centre, Fagan, Halmosi, Boateng, France and Garcia made up a midfield 5 with Cousin up front on his own. Newcastle created the better chances throughout and we were happy to play as the away team and let them come onto us. Joe Kinnear's comment that it was "Smash and Grab" is laughable though; the Tigers enjoyed plenty of possession and found themselves in good positions without finding the killer ball. In the second half in particular, we grew in confidence and began to take the game to them. Newcastle missed the first real chance of the game, McShane and Zayatte collided as the ran for the same ball but Owen slashed at the ball and it flew over. They also hit the bar after Butt flicked on a Guthrie free-kick. The kick was awarded when Doyle dragged down Duff on the edge of the box and somehow escaped a yellow card. We struggled to find quality in possession but put in a great amount of work off the ball. Fagan and Garcia gave the midfield a great deal of energy and we did a fine job of pressuring them inside our half. When we had the ball, we looked to spring Halmosi, Fagan or Cousin quickly with diagonal balls. They struggled to beat the linesman's flag which broke up a lot of attacks and when we did get the ball into good areas, particularly out wide, we made poor decisions and failed to deliver. Both managers were sent off after disagreeing with a Coloccini challenge on Cousin which I didn't see because my eyes followed the ball. The ref booked the defender so he obviously saw something, as did Phil Brown. We were on top towards the end of the half and actually "scored" but unfortunately, Garcia's neat volley was ruled out for an obvious push by Cousin.
The second half was better from a City point of view but probably suffered as a spectacle when Newcastle ran out of ideas and took to trying to hit the ball over our defence. We wore them down quite well and their play was scrappy throughout the half. Their fans took to shouting at the referee after every challenge as they became disillusioned by the lack of quality. The ref, to his credit, was strong enough to ignore them. They did manage one good chance early in the half. Owen, looking a mile offside, ran in behind McShane and produced a terrific save from Matt Duke's rib. After that, we defended stoutly, winning everything in the air and picking up second ball all over the pitch. George Boateng was stretchered off while trying to finish off a terrific move and as unfortunate as it was for him, the introduction of Ashbee gave us a lot more impetus in the middle. Mendy was also introduced and he took them apart. His terrific run down the right opened them up and then a slid pass across the face of goal was tapped in by Cousin. We expected a tough last 10 minutes and it never really happened. Owen headed over form a free-kick when he should have done better and that was about it. We kept the ball well and with Mendy in the mood, threatened to break away for a second. Caleb Folan (remember him?) came on for Cousin and did a terrible job seeing out the game but we survived anyway.
Defensively, we were very sound. There were no issues with the slightly different unit and they looked like they'd played together all season. They were well protected but did a fine job when called upon. Duke was highly impressive again. His handling was perfect and his short distribution gave us a good chance to counter attack quickly. His kicking was just about fine but does worry you as an observer. Duke did everything he possibly could to give PB something to think about. McShane (so long, farewell) had a terrific game at centre-back, aside from the one obvious gaffe, and did a great job in the air. His positioning had to be spot on due to the pace issue and it was. Zayatte, playing because he's suspended for Saturday, gave another assured performance and even found the time to break out of defence, beat two men, win a bone breaking 50/50 in the middle of the pitch and then attack their penalty area. Doyle looked slow against Duff and Guttierez, he did well in the air but was beaten too easily on the floor. As the game went on, it became even easier. Ricketts did a decent job. He spent most of his time up against Duff and stuck with him as he tried to beat him. Could maybe have done more to stop the ball coming into the box. Sam did a fine job of supporting attacks but failed to get the ball in, too often over complicating things by twisting and turning.
The midfield looked much better for the inclusion of Garcia. Why he was dropped after a fine performance against Aston Villa is anyone's guess but he showed again last night that it was a poor decision. He gave us good energy and picked up a lot of the ball. Boateng played a tad deeper and didn't get involved too much but made one or two decent challenges. What we needed alongside those two was someone who'd get on the ball and pass it and France wasn't that person. He did a good job of getting in and around the box as well as putting in a shift going backwards but lacked the pace and quality to affect the game. His touch and passing were not of the required standard. Halmosi had another poor game. Caught offside too often and not good enough or strong enough on the ball. He wasted some great positions. Ash and Mendy both made positive contributions as subs, Ash picked up all of the second ball in the last 15 minutes and Mendy roasted N'Zogbia.
Cousin played the lonely role up front but played it very well. He was incredibly strong against two centre-backs and held the ball up well. He was caught offside too often and still plays a little to often with his head down but his willingness to run into space and his strength with his back to goal were exactly what the team needed. Folan did not impress when he came on.
So, it's into round four and at home to Millwall. A few of the guys in this 11 have given Browny something to think about, not just for the next round but also the next league game. Duke, Garcia and Cousin in particular have done their cause no harm at all. The players showed a great work ethic and spirit and just lacked a bit of quality where it mattered but we have others who have that quality. If we can merge their ability with the desire of this team, we'll be fine.
Ratings: Duke 8, Doyle 6, Ricketts 7, McShane 8, Zayatte 8, Fagan 7 (Mendy), Halmosi 5, Garcia 7, France 6, Boateng 6 (Ashbee), Cousin 7 (Folan).
Get well soon, George Boateng!