This Wednesday, Newcastle United host Plymouth Argyle in an FA Cup Third Round replay after a 0-0 draw in the original fixture. It is very much a winnable match for the North-East side and one that they would expect victory from, given their form in the league. A success against Plymouth would set up an intriguing tie against West Brom who are Newcastle’s biggest rivals in the Championship. But how seriously should Chris Hughton be taking the tournament?
It seems strange to talk about the FA Cup being taken seriously, but it is certainly a question that should be asked. In the last round, many clubs rested players and attendances were very low for certain fixtures. It is thought that Arsenal will rest players for their Fourth Round tie with Stoke as it has been scheduled a couple of days before a key Premier League tie at the request of ITV. Newcastle United are hardly in a position to be picking and choosing trophies; most of their fans have not seen the side lift one, but their priorities do lie elsewhere this season.
They are currently top of the Championship, but have dropped points in recent weeks and their lead has been cut to 5 points. Gaining promotion to the Premier League is of paramount importance to the club; they cannot maintain the current squad’s wages if they remain in the Championship for another season. The squad is not the biggest, and though it is filled with decent players, there are not a lot of them. The bench is often populated with youngsters and the departures of a couple of loan signings has only served to make the squad more threadbare.
With Geremi also reported to have left the club, and no sign of any new arrivals yet, it may be the case that the FA Cup will have to take a backseat. Realistically, the team is not good enough to make an impact in the latter stages and the extra games are likely to take a lot out of the players. It would be most unfortunate if as a result of fatigue, key players picked up injuries, as this would threaten to derail the promotion push.
On the flipside, a strong run in the cup would boost confidence levels at the club; they have struggled to win recently, and defeating Plymouth could be just what is needed prior to the big clash with West Brom on Monday. It is a balancing act that Hughton must get right; the cup can be used to build confidence for the second half of the season; but it must not take too much out of the squad that it harms the promotion challenge.