This is another one to add to the debate about whether FA Cup replays should be scrapped as Oxford United ruined Newcastle United plans for a winter break.
In truth, this should not even be a debate. Oxford deserve to have a second crack at the Magpies and they will fancy their chances of an upset at the Kassam Stadium too.
If Newcastle’s players do not get the rest and recuperation they need, it is their own fault for failing to beat a team two divisions below them at home. This was simply not good enough as far as they are concerned.
Oxford had come to play, not survive and enjoyed some early success down Newcastle’s right flank with Shandon Baptiste causing problems with his pace, if not, sadly, his final ball.
Having named a strong starting XI – including new signing Nabil Bentaleb in the centre of midfield - Bruce would have expected his team to impose themselves far more, but the League One side more than held their own.
Whenever you thought Newcastle were beginning to get to get a grip of the game, Oxford came back into it and they arguably created the best chance of the game when Marcus Browne shot straight at Darlow with the whole goal to aim at. This was a fine display from Karl Robinson’s side.
Newcastle should have taken the lead when captain Jamaal Lascelles put a free header over the bar, a miss that was partly forgotten about when a VAR check was made on a tackle by Josh Ruffles on Joelinton in the build-up. It did not look like a penalty in real time and the replays proved it.
That and a speculative effort from Allan Saint-Maximin, was the only threat Newcastle created for Oxford goalkeeper Simon Eastwood. This was not going to be easy and the visitors were also offering enough danger on the counter to ensure the hosts could not pin them in their own half by pushing the defence up to the halfway line.
Indeed, the home support were beginning to get annoyed as both Bentaleb and the badly out of sorts Sean Longstaff gave the ball away needlessly in quick succession.
Even Saint-Maximin was not quite his usual sparkly self, although one darting run and shot before half time did almost sneak into the bottom corner, Eastwood just about getting enough on it to divert it away for a corner.
It was all rather slow and predictable and Oxford were, in the main, able to keep their defensive shape without too much stress as the game meandered, silently, into half time. There may have been a capacity crowd inside the stadium, but they did not have anything to make much noise about.
There was a little more urgency at the start of the second half and Bentaleb’s sweetly struck shot, well saved by Eastwood, began a period of sustained pressure that saw Lascelles side-footed finish blocked and Ciaran Clark just fail to get on the end of a Miguel Almiron cross.
Oxford were looking stretched and Joelinton thought he had broken their resistance, but Saint-Maximin had held on to the ball too long before playing him in and the Brazilian had strayed offside before beating Eastwood.
Seconds later and the Oxford goalkeeper had to be sharp to deny Saint-Maximin at his near post. Now Oxford were being pinned in their half but they broke out of the siege and, without forcing Newcastle’s Karl Darlow into a save, Marcus Browne came very close to finding the top corner with a fine effort.
As they did in the first half, Newcastle failed to keep the pressure on and Oxford should have made them pay when Alex Rodriguez skipped past Bentaleb and played in Browne but he shot straight at Darlow. It was a huge let off.
Nothing was going Newcastle’s way, Joelinton slick finish meaningless as he was offside, before Almiron scooped over from close range when he should have scored.
Oxford looked exhausted by the end and twice Almiron was cynically hauled back, first by Rodriguez and Mark Sykes, but for once Newcastle could not come up with a late goal as Joelinton blazed over.
Newcastle United 3-4-3: Darlow, Schar, Lascelles, Clark; Yedlin, S Longstaff (Hayden 87), Bentaleb (Atsu 80), Ritchie; Almiron, Saint-Maximin (M Longstaff 69), Joelinton
Subs not used: Elliot, Hayden, Fernandez, Sorensen, Allan
Oxford United 4-1-4-1: Eastwood, Long, Dickie, Moore, Ruffles; Rodridguez (Hanson 90+1); Browne, Sykes, Baptiste, Fosu (Agyei 87); Mackie (Holland 77)
Subs not used: Stevens, Mousinho, Thorne, Kelly
Booked: Rodriguez, Baptiste, Sykes
Referee: Robert Jones