Newcastle reach EFL Cup final: Revitalised Magpies continue on upward curve

Newcastle United’s upward direction of travel since Eddie Howe’s arrival on Tyneside is moving at such a pace that the Toon Army can now add Wembley to their list of destinations as they shoot for a place in next season’s Champions League.

This being Newcastle, what looked like being a stroll against Southampton in their EFL Cup semi-final came accompanied with some second-half nerves before the sound of Paul Tierney’s final whistle was drowned out by the deafening roars echoing around Tyneside.

In reality, Newcastle United were never in serious danger of squandering a place in their first Wembley final since the 1999 FA Cup once two early goals from Sean Longstaff gave them an even greater hold on this EFL Cup semi-final after winning the first leg at St Mary’s.

First Wembley final since 1999. First League Cup final since 1976. A chance to win their first trophy since Ujpest Dozsa were beaten in the 1969 Inter Cities’ Fairs Cup Final.

Heady times indeed for Newcastle United and their transformational manager Eddie Howe, supported by transformational funds supplied by Saudi Arabian owners.

When Howe succeeded Steve Bruce in November 2021, Newcastle United were 19th in the Premier League table, five points from safety after 11 games.

The mood was hopeful, however, because of those new mega-rich owners.

For all the debate and questions surrounding them, along with the accusations of this famous old club being used as a sports-washing exercise, Newcastle’s graph has been ascending ever since.

What has happened on the field since has been more than even the most optimistic Newcastle fan could have dreamed about.

Newcastle’s confidence is now so high that they will be confident against either Manchester United or Nottingham Forest at Wembley on 26 February – and all this while pursuing a place in the Premier League’s top four and next season’s Champions League, as they currently lie third in the table.

The frenzied atmosphere on Tyneside once Southampton were beaten was a release after the years of pain in the 1990s when Kevin Keegan’s great entertainers could not get over the line in the Premier League and Sir Kenny Dalglish and Sir Bobby Robson’s sides suffered successive FA Cup final losses to Arsenal and Manchester United in 1998 and 1999.

This was followed by the years of discontent under former owner Mike Ashley.

In that era, Newcastle’s fans were often criticised for expecting too much from a club that has not won a trophy for almost 54 years – this was harsh judgement.

They did not want a procession of title triumphs and the Champions League arriving on Tyneside. They simply wanted a club of such rich potential, a one team city with a spectacular stadium located near the heart of that city, to be given the chance to punch their weight on the field.

Howe has revived his own career after taking time out after his departure following Bournemouth’s relegation.

And he now has the chance to take his place in Newcastle folklore by becoming the first manager to win a trophy on Tyneside since Joe Harvey.

Working alongside director of football Dan Ashworth, and even before his arrival, Howe laid the basis for progress with smart signings of powerful characters such as Kieran Trippier alongside real class in the shape of Brazil creator Bruno Guimaraes.

Goalkeeper Nick Pope has proved an incredible bargain at £10m and striker Alexander Isak cost £60m but has shown his quality, while watching from the stands against Southampton draped in a black and white scarf was Newcastle’s latest acquisition Anthony Gordon, purchased from Everton in a deal that could eventually be worth £45m.

It was also fitting that those greats of the 1990s Alan Shearer and David Ginola, who kept the flame alive even though the trophies did not come, were at St James’ Park to join in the celebrations.

The Toon Army will travel to London in their thousands to join the party at Wembley and such has been the long wait for success that Newcastle’s manager and players will make themselves immortal if they emerge victorious.

Forget the fact that the League Cup is a distant third, some might even say fourth, on the list of domestic priorities. When you have waited as long as Newcastle have to taste success, to lay hands on any kind of serious silverware, this game will mean everything.

And the mood on Tyneside is now so buoyant that Newcastle’s Toon Army will be hoping this is just the start.

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