Leicester send Newcastle crashing out of FA Cup
LEICESTER CITY 1
(Leonardo Ulloa 39)
New year, new man in charge, same old Newcastle.
The Magpies were dumped out of the FA Cup after a meek 1-0 defeat by the Premier League's bottom club Leicester City last night - their third consecutive third-round exit.
It was not the type of showing caretaker manager John Carver was hoping for, as he continues to stake his claim for the job following Alan Pardew's departure to Crystal Palace.
For all his pre-match talk that he would name his strongest available team, Carver made a whopping seven changes to the team that drew 3-3 at home in the Premier League against relegation strugglers Burnley on New Year's Day.
In came summer signing duds Remy Cabella and Emmanuel Riviere, recently-recovered fullback Davide Santon, and 17-year-old striker Adam Armstrong.
Leicester made seven changes from their last league game themselves and, unsurprisingly, the two sides served up a dull first half.
Cabella had the ball in the back of the net on 32 minutes off a counter-attack, but the goal was chalked off for offside.
Seven minutes later, Leicester's Leonardo Ulloa put his side in front with a header.
Newcastle enjoyed plenty of the ball in the early stages of the second half, but lacked bite upfront as they missed the rested Ayoze Perez and the suspended Papiss Cisse.
Third-choice goalkeeper Jak Alnwick pulled off a fantastic save off a Chris Woods header in the 63rd minute to keep his side in the game, but it was to prove in vain as the hosts clung on, quite comfortably, for the win.
A joke making the rounds on Twitter last night was whether stumbling out of the FA Cup would hurt or boost Carver's chances of convincing Newcastle owner Mike Ashley to give him the job full-time.
After all, since taking over the club in 2007, the English billionaire retail entrepreneur has incurred the wrath of the Magpies faithful for his lack of ambition.
The modus operandi each season seem to be to stay in the Premier League and avoid continental competitions or lengthy cup runs if possible, as that would only represent a distraction and unnecessary spending of money to bolster the squad.
In fact, in the eight seasons Ashley has been in power, Newcastle have been eliminated from the FA Cup in the third round five times, and thrice in the fourth round.
They've lost to lower league teams like Stevenage and Brighton (twice).
Even for a club whose last piece of major silverware was the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup - which became the Uefa Cup before it was transformed into today's Europa League - that record makes for painful reading.
Already out of the League Cup after a 4-0 thumping by Tottenham in the semi-finals three weeks ago, last night's result rounds off a bleak past month for the club.
It's not as though the Premier League season has been fantastic.
A run of six wins in eight - with some of the victories being fortuitous, to say the least - has left the team in 10th place, happily floating in mid-table and masking deficiencies of the squad.
Sure, there have been bright spots.
Ayoze, the 20-year-old striker signed from Tenerife for just £2 million ($4.1m), has excited fans with his speed and work-rate.
But he has scored just five goals, and is far from the finished product.
Academy teenagers Rolando Aarons and Armstrong - who played in the Lion City Cup in 2011 - have also had cameos to show their potential, and perhaps it may not be all doom and gloom on Tyneside. But the injury crisis at Newcastle has not subsided.
They were already just behind Arsenal as the Premier League's most injury-prone team this season, and key defender Steven Taylor is now ruled out for the season with an ankle injury picked up against Burnley.
And, if the right offer comes, French international Moussa Sissoko, one of the few performers for the team this term, Ashley will certainly cash in. Paris St Germain and Arsenal are said to be interested.
It doesn't help that Cabella and Riviere, for whom the club shelled out £15m for, have been flops.
But I digress.
Carver desperately wants the job permanently, but the bookmakers suggest Ashley will go for a continental name.
As usual, plenty of names have been bandied about, from former Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel - compared favourably to Borussia Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp - and former Croatia coach Slaven Bilic, to Frenchmen Remi Garde and Christophe Galtier, who would be expected to get the best out of a Francophone squad.
But, if Ashley keeps running Newcastle with the same lack of zeal as he has been over the years, it will start becoming tough attracting Europe's best talents to the north-east.
And silverware will be but a distant dream for even the most ardent Newcastle supporter.