• Oxford United
  • St James’ Park
  • FA Cup 4th Round
  • 3pm – Saturday 25th January, ‘20

Make no mistake about it. This is a big one.

Whilst the name ‘Oxford’ is more likely to bring to mind ‘towers of learning’ and chaps called ‘Jasper’ or ‘Hugo’, with big hair in rowing garb; this Saturday, the city’s football club are thrust firmly into the limelight. Oxford United stand between us and the rarified atmosphere of the last sixteen.

I don’t know about you, but something doesn’t feel right. I’m painfully accustomed to Newcastle United being drawn away at the likes of Stamford Bridge or Anfield. Having two third tier sides in a row just doesn’t happen to us.

The ‘U’s (what an inspirational nickname) will arrive on Tyneside ready for a party. It’s a canny draw for them from a financial perspective as well as a mint day out. 42000 tickets had been sold as of Wednesday morning, and 3500+ of them are from Oxford. They’ll be looking forward to a night (or two) on the Geordie tiles, and fair play to them. I hope they have a mint time, AFTER the match, that is.

As an in depth previewer, I’ve checked out their squad and can only recognise Liverpool’s Ben Woodburn (injured) and the 34 yo striker, Jamie Mackie – once of QPR. They currently occupy 5th position in Div 1 (a place ahead of they who shall not be named) and beat Hayes & Yeading, Walsall and Hartlepool United to get here.

We also have some recent history in this competition, as our opponents turned us over 3-0 back in 2017 at the Kassam stadium. On that occasion, Rafa sacrificed any thought of a cup run with promotion to the Premiership key. As Newcastle are currently sitting on 30 points, with fourteen games still to play, it’s a much different set of circumstances this time around. Anything less than a professional performance, culminating in a home win is unthinkable.

Brucie’s Mags will come into this tie in fine fettle. Having endured an awful run over Christmas / New Year, upcoming fixtures including Wolves away, Chelsea at home and Everton away looked as welcome as Mr Ashley’s appearance at an ‘all you can eat’ Chinese buffet. However, (somehow) we managed to navigate them and collected a much required five points in the process.

To see the charva custodian capitulating so at Goodison was just wonderful. I’m not one for making up rubbish songs on Twitter & the like, but I think we’d be missing a trick if we didn’t regale him with ‘Jordan Pickford, behind the line..’ (to the Ryan Taylor tune) next time our paths cross.

Anyways, I’m digressing again. To Saturday….

Joe & St Max are only ‘touch & go’ to make the starting XI this weekend. As United once more labour ponderously in the transfer market, we could really do with a reappearance from AC. He’s not exactly banging them in, but he still offers plenty and is the only other striker we can call on. No rush then, Mr Charnley.

There’s also a chance we’ll see new Algerian loanee, Bentaleb. The Schalke 04, ex Spurs midfielder is an intriguing prospect. He has shown intermittent signs of great promise in his career thus far, but has been dogged with injury and disciplinary issues in recent seasons. Perhaps he can reignite his career and win himself a permanent contract on Tyneside? A ‘damaged goods’ gamble or shrewd business? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Prediction drama
Rochdale, of the same division looked pretty ropey in the replay at SJP. Oxford however, are a much more upwardly mobile side and you’d imagine they’ll at least be of a better standard than the Lancashire outfit.

That said, it’d be a huge shock if the Mags weren’t safely ensconced in the 5th round draw come tea time on Saturday. Despite our propensity to make ‘heavy weather’ of such situations, I’m going for a regulation 2-0 home win. I reckon we’ll then get drawn against Jairzinho’s Brazil of the 70’s, away at the Maracana. Lady Luck’s is in equal parts, flighty and promiscuous. She’s shown us far too much favour recently….


Nick Clark