April 19, 2024

Newcastle United advanced to the FA Cup quarter-finals with a penalty shootout victory over Blackburn Rovers, and Martin Dubravka’s man-of-the-match performance was all the more amazing given his illness.

Martin Dubravka raised his arms like a delighted boxer. It was a suitable celebration. After all, the Newcastle United goalkeeper had just knocked Blackburn Rovers out of the FA Cup and advanced the Magpies to the quarterfinals with a dramatic penalty shootout victory at Ewood Park.

Dubravka, who had to watch his team compete in the Carabao Cup final a year ago while cup-tied, helped Newcastle move closer to a return to Wembley by saving spot penalties from Dominic Hyam and Sammie Szmodics. Just a few days before, Dubravka could not have imagined such saves.

In truth, Dubravka, who was unable to play in last week’s defeat against Arsenal due to illness, has been out of commission for “quite some time.” “I’ve been struggling a little bit with my health,” the 35-year-old told BBC Newcastle. “We didn’t talk about that so hopefully everything is going to be OK.”

That made Dubravka’s performance even more outstanding. Make no mistake, Newcastle would have been picking up the pieces after a disastrous cup elimination against Championship opponents if it hadn’t been for the Slovakia international on a night when the visitors could only draw 1-1 after 120 tight minutes of play.

Not only did Dubravka perform admirably in the shootout, but the Newcastle goalie also made outstanding saves in extra time and normal time, earning him man of the match recognition. No surprise Alan Shearer said Newcastle ‘owes him a big debt’ as the 7,432 Geordies behind the goal screamed Dubravka’s name before segueing into: “Tell me ma, me ma. I will not be home for tea. We’re heading to Wembley! “Tell me, ma.”

Some of those at the Darwen End will have been at Ewood when Newcastle won at this stadium on their way to the final in 1998 and 1999. Could history be ready to repeat itself? Could Newcastle go one further and finally end their everlasting thirst for silverware in May?

You will undoubtedly need some luck along the way, but this was hardly a performance that will make Manchester City and others nervous. Newcastle will have to provide far more than they did on Tuesday night to whoever Howe’s squad faces in the following round in two and a half weeks’ time.

In truth, players and staff alike were relieved to still be in the hat. Eddie Howe even blew out his cheekbones at full-time. That is how far Newcastle was pushed by a second-tier club in 16th place.

After toiling in the first half, Newcastle broke the deadlock through Anthony Gordon, but familiar defensive woes allowed Szmodics to equalise late on. Newcastle had numerous chances to retake the lead in extra time, but the black-and-whites grew increasingly wasteful as the game progressed, with Gordon, Sean Longstaff, Bruno Guimaraes, and Harvey Barnes all passing up chances in extra time to spare the visitors the nerve-racking prospect of a shootout.


Newcastle United - Martin Dúbravka to miss start of Premier League season  with heel injury


You couldn’t help but recall this stage of the Carabao Cup back in December, when Newcastle was similarly defeated by a late goal in normal time on the road. That game was likewise decided by penalties on a night when Newcastle missed two of their spot kicks and, more importantly, did not win the toss against Chelsea. This time, Newcastle was able to land the initial blow in front of a sea of black and white behind the goal, with Fabian Schar, Bruno Guimaraes, Elliot Anderson, and Anthony Gordon all scoring. Only replacement Harvey Barnes missed on a night when Dubravka saved half of the four spot kicks he faced to help Newcastle advance.

In reality, it should not have come to this. Howe had picked a strong side, making five changes from the previous weekend’s disastrous performance at Arsenal, with Kieran Trippier, Bruno Guimaraes, the returning Joe Willock, and Alexander Isak among those starting. It demonstrated not only Howe’s seriousness about Blackburn, but also his commitment to the cup.

However, Howe’s men appeared to be nursing hangovers from a chastening night in the city. Blackburn were not only well-organised in keeping Newcastle out of possession, but they were also brave with the ball, with Szmodics and Tyrhys Dolan both having chances.

Newcastle did not improve much after the interval, as Dubravka had to come down low to push John Buckley’s drive away in the 52nd minute. Somehow, it was still goalless.

Newcastle had the same impression when Trippier’s corner found Jamaal Lascelles at the back post, but the Magpies captain’s header was cleared off the line after an hour. However, don’t be fooled. Newcastle needed real inspiration from open play, so Howe substituted Lewis Miley, Miguel Almiron, and Harvey Barnes for Joe Willock, Jacob Murphy, and Alexander Isak.

Newcastle finally broke through a few minutes later when Longstaff slipped Gordon in, but the forward shot straight at goalkeeper Aynsley Pears when he should have done much better one-on-one. It was a major mistake.

Gordon, on the other hand, did not lower his head as he might have done previously. Instead, the forward was in the right place at the right time to receive Almiron’s pullback, sweeping the ball into the net in the 71st minute.

This should have been the end of it. However, given this team’s defensive weaknesses, that was never going to happen. Blackburn drew level just a few minutes later.

Unfortunately for Newcastle, it all started with a straightforward long throw-in by Lascelles, who miscalculated the ball’s flight. Arnor Sigurdsson pounced, sprinting down the left before cutting the ball back to fellow replacement Dilan Markanday, whose powerful effort was saved by Dubravka on the bar. Szmodics, the competition’s leading scorer, was the first to react, tapping home and lifting the roof off Ewood Park.

There was still time to find a winner, but Newcastle were holding on in regular time. Newcastle were finally indebted to Dubravka, who denied Yasin Ayari at the death after the substitute’s shot deflected off Lascelles.

Extra time began, and Pears was soon bailing his team out as the goalie produced a great double save to deny Gordon and Longstaff in the 102nd minute. Then, just before halftime in extra time, Pears pushed Barnes’ header away. How come Newcastle was not ahead?

That was only throughout the first half of extra time. In the second, Bruno had a shot blocked by Scott Wharton in the 112th minute with the goal open, but Barnes fumbled the rebound.

With five minutes of extra time remaining, Howe moved to his bench for the final time and, tellingly, with penalties in mind, replaced Miley with the returning Anderson, who made his first appearance since October. Anderson was among those who demonstrated their mettle in the shootout as Newcastle advanced to the final eight, but this was Dubravka’s night.


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