A virtually full-strength Magpies side, at least with the players available, came up a long way short against the U’s – 16th in the third tier coming into the clash – with Middlesbrough-born frontman Joe Ironside’s second-half goal proving decisive.
Eddie Howe’s side enjoyed the better of the first half although the visitors always looked capable of packing a punch. And, after they took the lead, Cambridge looked comfortable; ultimately, the Magpies could have few complaints about the outcome.
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Just 24 hours after the full back’s arrival was confirmed, boss Howe opted to play new recruit Kieran Trippier from the outset. And the England international was involved straight away, picking out Fabian Schär after a corner was played short, who guided a header over the bar. Cambridge then fired a warning shot themselves, as Adam May’s piledriver from the edge of the area flew narrowly high of the target.
With Trippier and Ryan Fraser down one side and Jacob Murphy and Matt Ritchie on the other, the Magpies looked to attack the flanks early on. Murphy made inroads down the left and played a fine cross to the back post for Allan Saint-Maximin on 18 minutes, but the Frenchman – playing centrally to begin with – failed to connect properly. Saint-Maximin then turned provider, threading the ball through for Murphy, who brought a decent stop out of U’s goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov.
With the League One side having given as good as they got for much of the first half – nearly getting in behind the Magpies’ backline on two occasions – United looked to turn the screw as the interval loomed. Saint-Maximin checked onto his right foot after swapping positions with Murphy and drew a fine save out of Mitov from 20 yards. Then, Jonjo Shelvey and Fraser combined to set up a fine chance for Murphy, whose shot from the centre of the area was too close to Mitov. Sean Longstaff headed wide seconds later as Cambridge struggled to clear their lines, with Mitov making a superb intervention just before the end of the half to deny Murphy, who got a vicious effort away after more good build-up play by Shelvey and Fraser.
Newcastle still looked purposeful as the second half got underway, Joelinton connecting with a Trippier corner and bringing Mitov swiftly back into action before Trippier himself fired a free kick into the wall. But Cambridge, to their credit, never looked content to simply sit back, and with 56 minutes played Mark Bonner’s side stunned St. James’ Park by taking the lead. It was a scrappy goal from the Magpies’ perspective, as Harrison Dunk’s run caused problems, Harvey Knibbs nipped in to take the ball away from Martin Dúbravka before seeing a shot blocked, and Ironside picked up the pieces to volley home.
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A lengthy VAR check for a possible offside threatened to spoil the visitors’ celebrations, but the goal stood and United, looking a little rattled, took their time to respond. Straight after Ironside’s strike, boss Howe threw on Miguel Almirón and Joe Willock to bolster his side’s attacking charge, and a wave of pressure just before the 70 minute-mark nearly created an opening for the latter, who saw a shot blocked. Any momentum the Magpies looked to build up was hampered, though, as the U’s started to take the sting out of the game by committing a series of niggly fouls.
While Willock’s fellow substitute Almirón saw a back-post header drop over, and Shelvey and Emil Krafth both saw efforts blocked, United only really mustered up one genuine chance in response to Ironside’s opener. It fell the way of Joelinton, who brought a flying stop out of Mitov from Trippier’s corner four minutes into added time, the Cambridge ‘keeper doing brilliantly to preserve the visitors’ clean sheet and, with it, a shock victory.
Another unwanted piece of FA Cup history for the Magpies, then, as the club’s long trophy drought stretches on for yet another year.