Newcastle United travel to Brentford's new Community Stadium for the 5.30pm kick off tomorrow against Thomas Frank's men in The Carabao Cup hoping to seal a place in the final four of the competition and it's a game Steve Bruce, who lifted the trophy as Captain of Man United, is relishing the prospect of:
Bruce turns 60 next week and the best early birthday present his team can give him is a win at Brentford and a place in The Semi-Final of The Carabao Cup, English football's second favourite Cup competition that was also founded, like Bruce, in 1960.
That's the giant carrot dangling in front of Newcastle United - a place in the last four of The League Cup for only the second time in the club's history and a genuine chance to win a major trophy for the first time since The Fairs Cup success in Europe in 1969.
The last time Newcastle reached a Semi-Final in any competition was 2005 when Shola Ameobi scored a consolation goal in a 4-1 defeat by Manchester United at The Millennium Stadium in The FA Cup when Graeme Souness was manager and its high time the club returned to the trophy big time.
Newcastle last reached The Semi-Finals of The League Cup in 1976 when they beat Spurs 3-2 on aggregate to clinch a place at Wembley before Manchester City broke Geordie hearts with a Dennis Tueart overheard kick that won the game for The Cityzens:
Amazingly, Bruce was there in his capacity as a ball-boy after being selected randomly in a draw for promising young Newcastle schoolboy footballers:
"I was selected. I was with Newcastle Schools’ and there were six of us drawn out of a hat, and I was one of them.
“It was not a happy time, I have to tell you, when he did that. It was a great goal, mind you, but I wasn’t very happy at the time.”
and it fostered in him a belief in the magic and winnability of The Cup competitions:
“The cup competitions for any Premier League team – I learned this a few years ago – you only have to win four or five games to get there.
“We saw Watford get to the FA Cup final last year. It is something we will take seriously, so let’s see if we can get through.
“If Hull is capable of getting to a final and maintaining its Premier League status, then a club like this can too, surely?”
Its a philosophy that has meant he has taken the Cups more seriously in his short time as Newcastle manager than any other manager in the Mike Ashley era and he has backed his ability to juggle both The Premier League & Cup runs and has played consistently stronger teams than predecessors and has reaped the rewards with two Quarter-Finals in two years:
Standing between Bruce and Newcastle and that Semi-Final place are Brentford, who are currently 4th in The EFL Championship and on a 13-match unbeaten run stretching back to a 3-2 loss at Stoke City - managed by another former Magpie Irishman Michael O'Neill - in October, a run mainly powered by the goals of ex-NUFC striker Ivan Toney.
Toney is fast making a name for himself in the The Championship having scored 16 goals in 22 games in all competitions for The Bees and scored goals for former side Peterborough against Premier League opposition including a strike against Burnley in a game in which Jeff Hendrick, now at Newcastle, also notched in and this wonder strike against Bradford so Newcastle will be on guard against their former player, who was let go without being given a fair crack at the first team and has a point to prove.
Ahead of the game, Head Coach Frank said of Toney and his team's ambitions:
"There are a lot of players in our team who dream big and want to go to the Premier League one way or another,'
'Newcastle are a massive club. There are still a few other clubs that are a tiny bit bigger than us in the mix, but we will be doing absolutely everything to win the game.
'We always want to win but Newcastle are massive favourites, so we can go out and play free and play forward and attack."
Newcastle will be hoping to keep Toney quiet and goalless as they have done two other former strikers already this season - Blackburn's Adam Armstrong in The Carabao Cup and Alexander Mitrovic of Fulham in The Premier League on Saturday - and can kick on in the manner they started the competition in impressive goal-scoring fashion of their own this season:
Brentford's Newcastle link doesn't end with Toney, however, as Co-Chairman Phil Giles is a life-long Magpies fan who is bringing his statistical and betting expertise to bear in the football world attempting to narrow the odds Moneyball-style for The Bees with a data-based system that saw them narrowly miss on Premier League promotion last season.
The Bees will have done their homework & analysis on Newcastle yet Bruce's Magpies - rather like the humble BumbleBee in nature who - while scientifically should be able to fly contrary to the popular myth do so in a wildly different manner to other airborne creatures in the natural world like birds - find a way to consistently win football matches in League and Cup despite the possession, Shots, xG - insert meaningless stat here - going against them based on a good defence and ability to score more real goals than the opposition especially late in games to secure results.
Newcastle drew 1-1 with a revitalised Fulham side at St. James' Park on Saturday night thanks to a Callum Wilson pen after a Matt Ritchie Own goal gifted Scott Parker's men the lead in the first half & The Magpies still didn't look themselves after a bout of Covid-19 wreaked havoc with the squad forcing the postponement of a match a fortnight ago.
Steve Bruce revealed in his pre-match presser that talisman Allan Saint-Maximum will not be returning in time for the game and that squad rotation will be utilised:
"I have to monitor what we've got. Isaac Hayden had to go in at centre back [on Saturday] and I can't see that situation improving. Whatever side we put out we're certainly capable of performing better and we'll have to because Brentford are a good side."
and it was confirmed later on that Saint-Maximum and club Captain Jamaal Lascelles are recovering from Covid-19 following speculation about their absence:
A win would give Newcastle fans that winning feeling over Christmas and continued hope for the season before tough games over the festive period starting at Man City on Boxing Day.
And there was further good news today on The Carabao Cup front when it was revealed that The Wembley showpiece Final itself would be postponed until late April rather than late February giving fans of teams involved in it a better chance to attend the game.
Prediction - Newcastle 2 Brentford 1 AET