Brentford 1 Newcastle 0
Still, at least Newcastle can concentrate on the league now. On a dank and dreary night in west London, they were handed a lesson in invention and ambition by a Brentford team who can now celebrate the first major cup semi-final in their 131-year history. They got there by believing in their plan, by having a plan, by wanting the ball: traits that have not defined Steve Bruce’s side for a good while now.
It feels harsh on Brentford, a team of sparkling industry and indefinable chemistry, to reduce one of their greatest triumphs to a case of big-club failure. But the truth is that Newcastle are no longer even much of a scalp any more. Josh Dasilva’s second-half winner was the least Brentford deserved for a performance in which they created more, shot more, tackled more, dreamed more.
Such was Thomas Frank's faith in his squad that he felt able to make six changes to his team – including the omission of top scorer Ivan Toney – without sacrificing its basic essence. Bruce, meanwhile, put out a strong team in an attempt to reach the first semi-final of the Mike Ashley era. And so, against weakened Championship opposition, with an onus to attack, would Newcastle seize the initiative? They would not.
Instead it was Brentford who arrived with the courage to play, to combine, to take risks on the ball, and who probably should have gone into the break ahead. Ethan Pinnock glanced a header just over from a corner. Saman Ghoddos, preferred to Bryan Mbeumo on the wing, hit the bar 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: deft, skilful and the sort of player Bruce could probably turn into a decent centre half.
What of Newcastle? For the most part, the limit of their ambitions appeared to be trying to find Callum Wilson with long punts and trying to burgle something out of the melee. Of course when you have a striker as sharp as Wilson you always have a chance, and he managed to create a couple of decent opportunities out of virtually nothing in the first half. Ryan Fraser also had a dip, forcing Luke Daniels into a good arching save. But that was basically it.
In fairness to Newcastle, these were hardly the conditions for playing silken passing football, even had they been minded to. The pitch at Brentford’s new stadium has taken plenty of punishment during a wet autumn, and with the rain strengthening and puddles beginning to appear near the sidelines, both teams seemed to struggle for fluency.
Yet even when Newcastle tried to build something, you could almost feel the creakiness: the rust and the inertia of a team so unused to the ball they had almost forgotten what to do with it. Jonjo Shelvey seemed content sitting at the base of midfield and pinging gorgeous long passes to various imaginary teammates sitting in the stands. Jacob Murphy surged into the right channel but kicked his own foot as he tried 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 gathered the ball on the left with 25 minutes remaining. Marcondes slipped a nice ball into Canos, who got his cross away too easily between two Newcastle defenders. Dasilva had made the late run, made a good contact and scored with a low shot.
Sensing an opportunity to kill the game, Frank brought on Toney to plunder the wide open spaces. Meanwhile Andy Carroll came bounding off the bench, arms flailing, ponytail flapping, barging his own team-mate Sean Longstaff out of the way and planting a volley 15 yards over the bar. But as the long balls rained in, Brentford's goal remained resolutely unthreatened.
And so Newcastle became the fourth Premier League team to fall to Brentford in this season’s competition. Frank’s team now stand one match from Wembley, two from Europe. For Newcastle? Well, it’s back to the league, back to the grindstone, back to a relegation struggle and the interminable search for a soul. There’s a trip to Manchester City on St Stephen’s Day. Then Liverpool four days later. If Newcastle’s present feels like a curse, then the future feels more like a threat. – Guardian