Oxford United battled their way to a replay at the Kassam Stadium with a fantastic performance at a sold-out St James' Park this afternoon. There was little to choose between the teams as Karl Robinson's side fought their way to a 0-0 draw which means they will have to do it all over again back in Oxford a week on Tuesday.
The Yellows were far from overawed by a capacity St James’ Park crowd. The 3,700 travelling fans sung their hearts out all afternoon and that lifted the players, who battled for every ball and might, with slightly better finishing, have even won it at the first attempt.
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce stated before the match that his side would treat the FA Cup with total respect and Braziilian forward Joelinton went close with a couple of efforts, while Rob Dickie and Sam Long made vital contributions to block shots or nick the ball away in dangerous areas. Ruffels then became the first Oxford player to be the subject of VAR when Deandre Yedlin took a tumble inside the area; ref Rob Jones was advised that nothing had happened but United were starting to soak up pressure and Sykes and Dickie had to make brave blocks as Newcastle started to hit their stride.
You would expect that to happen when a League 1 side plays away at a Premier League club, but United have pace and invention and several times were just one through ball away from opening up the home side on the break; one burst on 35 minutes saw their most dangerous player Marcus Browne reach the area but run into a covering defender after beating his full back on the inside.
Sam Long tried his luck with a wayward effort on 42 but at the other end it took a good save from Simon Eastwood to beat away a low drive from Allan Saint-Maximin on 37 and United started to soak up real pressure in the second half, with Saint-Maximin and debutant Nabil Bentaleb both forcing Eastwood into saves before we reached the hour mark.
United then had their best spell of the match and their day could have been even better as Alex Gorrin started to snap into challenges in midfield and Tariqe Fosu began to push his defender back. Shandon Baptiste drove an effort wide, Browne fizzed a fine effort just wide and the U's began to dream...
Browne had the chance to make those dreams truly come to liife after 70 minutes. Showing power and pace, the Middlesbrough loanee burst between two startled defenders but placed his shot too close to the exposed Karl Darlow in the Newcastle goal and the chance was gone.
Joelinton got the ball into the net from an offside position for a second time and Miguel Almiron hooked a half chance over the top while Gorrin and Sykes were booked for tactical fouls as Newcastle tried to find a winner, but they found Long, Dickie, Elliott Moore and Ruffels just too strong as a unit and United might even have nicked it had Darlow not made an excellent save in injury time from sub Nathan Holland, or if Dickie had been able to guide a header on target from the subsequent corner.
No giant killing, yet, but a superb effort and Oxford United are in the draw for the last 16 of the FA Cup.
The replay will be at the Kassam Stadium a week on Tuesday unless switched for TV. Normal league prices will apply and we will let you know how and when to get your ticket for a night of cup drama...
Report by Chris Williams. Pictures by Steve Daniels, Darrell Fisher and Jack Brown