Still, at least Newcastle can focus on the league now. On a humid and gloomy night in West London, a team from Brentford taught them a lesson in invention and ambition that can now celebrate the first major cup semi-final in its 131-year history. They got there believing in their plan, having a plan, wanting the ball – traits that haven’t defined Steve Bruce’s side in quite some time.
It feels hard for Brentford, a team of brilliant industry and indefinable chemistry, to reduce one of its greatest triumphs to a case of failure of a great club. But the truth is, Newcastle is no longer even a scalp. Josh Dasilva’s second-half winner was the least Brentford deserved for a performance where they created more, threw more, tackled more, dreamed more.
Such was Thomas Frank’s faith in his team that he felt capable of making six changes to his team, including the omission of top scorer Ivan Toney, without sacrificing his core essence. Bruce, meanwhile, brought out a strong team in an attempt to reach the first semi-final of the Mike Ashley era. And so, in the face of weakened Championship opposition, with the responsibility to attack, would Newcastle take the initiative? They would not.
Instead, it was Brentford who came in with the courage to play, combine, take risks with the ball, and who probably should have gone ahead at halftime. Ethan Pinnock glanced at a header just above one corner. Saman Ghoddos, preferred by Bryan Mbeumo on the wing, hit the crossbar after Jamal Lewis lost possession in his own half. Sergi Canos headed wide from five yards when it seemed harder to miss. Dasilva in midfield was a delight – slick, slick, and the kind of player Bruce could probably turn into a decent central midfielder.
What about Newcastle? For the most part, the limit of his ambitions seemed to be trying to find Callum Wilson with long punts and trying to steal something outside of melee. Of course, when you have a sharp forward like Wilson, you always have a chance, and he managed to create a couple of decent chances out of practically nothing in the first half. Ryan Fraser also sank, forcing Luke Daniels to make a nice bow save. But that was basically it.
In fairness to Newcastle, these were not the conditions for playing silk pass football, even if they had been taken into account. The pitch at the new Brentford Stadium has received many penalties during a wet autumn, and with the rain intensifying and puddles beginning to appear near the side lines, both teams seemed to be struggling for fluidity.
Yet even when Newcastle tried to build something, you could almost feel the crunch – the rust and inertia of a team so unaccustomed to the ball that they had almost forgotten what to do with it. Jonjo Shelvey seemed content sitting at the base of midfield and throwing magnificent long passes to various imaginary teammates sitting in the stands. Jacob Murphy dove into the right channel but kicked his own foot while trying to shoot.
Seeking inspiration, Bruce turned to his bench: Dwight Gayle for Miguel Almiron, Joelinton for Ryan Fraser. And perhaps Newcastle were still getting their bearings when Emiliano Marcondes picked up the ball down the left with 25 minutes to go. Marcondes slipped a good ball to Canos, who too easily cleared his cross between two Newcastle defenders. Dasilva had made the last run, made good contact and scored with a low shot.
Sensing an opportunity to end the game, Frank brought in Toney to loot the wide open spaces. Meanwhile, Andy Carroll came jumping off the bench, flapping his arms, waving his ponytail, shoving his own teammate Sean Longstaff out of the way and planting a volley 15 yards above the bar. But when the long balls started to rain, Brentford’s goal remained decidedly unthreatened.
And so Newcastle became the fourth Premier League team to lose to Brentford in this season’s competition. Frank’s team now faces a Wembley match, two from Europe. For Newcastle? Well, it’s back to the league, back to the whetstone, back to the fight for relegation and the never-ending search for a soul. There is a trip to Manchester City on December 26th. Then Liverpool four days later. If Newcastle’s present feels like a curse, then the future feels more like a threat.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.