For the second time in four days, Newcastle’s get out of jail card came from the penalty spot. Jonjo Shelvey’s sweet equaliser three minutes from time allowed Newcastle to prevail in a penalty shootout against Newport County of League Two, who opened the scoring through Tristan Abrahams. Newcastle snatched a point at Tottenham on Sunday but in less salubrious surrounds they were made to sweat before squeezing into the Carabao Cup quarter-finals, winning 5-4 on penalties, despite Joelinton missing from 12 yards.
Brandon Cooper skied the decisive spot-kick but it was cruel on the Newport defender, on loan from Swansea, who was outstanding throughout. His last-ditch block on Ryan Fraser as the winger went to unleash a shot at goal as Newcastle pushed for a leveller perhaps best embodied a brilliant backs-to-the-wall performance. Mickey Demetriou cleared off the line with only seconds of six minutes of second-half stoppage time remaining and Nick Townsend, the Newport goalkeeper, was inspired in thrice keeping Jacob Murphy at bay. But when Shelvey bamboozled the substitute Ryan Taylor on the edge of the box, he curled a delicious looping strike into the far corner to earn a toiling Newcastle a lifeline. “Shelvey is the only player on the pitch who can put it in the top corner from that position,” said Michael Flynn, the Newport manager.
From there, aside from Townsend diving low to his right to meet Joelinton’s spot-kick, it was a near-perfect set of penalties on a testing night for Newcastle and Steve Bruce acknowledged his side must do better. “We had 27 attempts on goal, 10 on target but when you don’t take these chances, we understand that is our achilles heel,” said Bruce, whose side host Burnley in the Premier League on Saturday. “We will keep working away to improve. I promised everybody that I would have a go in the cups because I know what it means to people. We have got to a second quarter-final [in six months].”
This had the makings of an upset from the get-go and Abrahams set the tone after his strike squirmed through Mark Gillespie’s gloves inside five minutes. Torrential rain saturated what is a tricky pitch at the best of times and the ground, which is also home to two rugby teams, has become infamous for its bobbles and quirks, as well as giantkillings in recent years, for it was here where Leicester came unstuck in the FA Cup last year and Leeds 12 months earlier. Bruce cited this as a dangerous trip, acknowledging his team were in for a surprise if there was any whiff of complacency. Swansea and Watford had already learned that the hard way this season.
Fabian Schär almost equalised with his first touch before Cooper expertly blocked just as Fraser looked to level after being freed by Joelinton. But, just as Newport thought they had another scalp, Shelvey’s magic took a helter-skelter game to a shootout. He celebrated by putting his index finger to his mouth as if to shush those sensing a shock. When Newcastle were finally able to savour victory, they had to contend with Newport’s cold showers. “That’s not quite what they’re used to,” Bruce said, smiling.