THE FA Cup remains a “glamorous” competition but Newcastle United’s game at Brighton today is more about “smiley faces” than romance, writes Stuart Rayner.
IN an FA Cup week it is not difficult to get players and managers misty-eyed about one of football’s most famous trophies.
But Newcastle United’s trip to Brighton and Hove Albion today has nothing to do with romance and everything to do with the desperate need for victory.
Being in the velvet bag for round four should always matter to those who hold English football dear to their heart.
But right now the Magpies’ needs are more prosaic and far more pressing. They just have to end a run of three consecutive and pretty punishing defeats.
Vurnon Anita summed up the prevailing mood this week.
“A win is the only thing we need right now,” insisted the midfielder, who should make his Cup debut at the Withdean Stadium this lunchtime.
“We need a boost to give us a few more smiley faces around the club. It’s a tough period.
“It is hard for us all. The next game is now the FA Cup and we must do everything we can to win the game.”
FA Cup third round weekend falls at a bad time. By the first weekend of a New Year most professional footballers are as exhausted as many fans are partied out.
As the physical demands of top-flight football have grown, those of the Festive fixture list look less and less reasonable.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew is always proud to talk about his love affair with the FA Cup, having played in every round of the competition.
It shot him to prominence, scoring Crystal Palace’s winner in a dramatic 4-3 extra-time semi-final victory over Liverpool. That led to his first final in 1990 (there was a replay too), and he had another as manager, taking West Ham United to penalties against the Reds again in 2006.
“It is only when you get to the latter stages you understand it as a football club, they certainly understand in the club shop where they sell thousands more shirts,” he argued.
“When you get to the final it can even gain you new fans. We gained 4,000 new fans at Palace for the next year when we got to the final. That can be massive.
“You only have to look at my history in the FA Cup to know how I feel about it. I was brought up on the FA Cup, it is very much part of my football fabric as the football person I am. I just haven’t had much luck in it (with Newcastle) and I hope that can change.
“It is a glamorous, fantastic competition.”