Almost nobody expected Newcastle to cause an upset in the FA Cup against Chelsea on Sunday, but a routine 3-0 defeat by Antonio Conte’s men nonetheless threw up a host of reasons for their supporters to wallow. Like most things lately, the outcome at Stamford Bridge was thrust into the broader narrative of how it reflects on the Mike Ashley era as a whole.
Ashley has been running the club for over a decade and never once in that period have the Magpies progressed beyond the fourth round of the competition. The last time they played an FA Cup match in February was back in 2006, when Kieron Dyer scored the only goal against a Southampton side that had yet to experience relegation to League One.
Michy Batshuayi was another focal point. His first-half brace put the Londoners in control at the weekend, leaving local reporters to lament how he had once been a well-known Newcastle target but nothing had materialised because Ashley was unwilling to stump up the fairly modest sum that would have been required to take the Belgian marksman to St James’ Park.
The collapse of the Amanda Staveley takeover leaves the club in a state of suspended animation. Hopes are high that new faces will arrive before the January window closes, but it also comes with an acceptance that Ashley will be looking to lay out as little as he can get away with to keep the club in the Premier League and preserve his £350m asking price.
Kenedy has now completed his protracted loan move from Chelsea, but West Brom beat the Magpies to the signature of Daniel Sturridge, his move to the Hawthorns announced barely two hours after the Toon Army had granted themselves permission to be excited about the possibility of the injury-prone England striker rocking up on Tyneside.
So there’s no real urgency or sense of occasion surrounding this fixture. It’s too early for anyone to be overly panicky about relegation and most attention in the build-up will be directed towards whatever’s in the pipeline. It’s a bizarre oddity of modern football that a full-time whistle can be overshadowed by what passes through a fax machine around 90 minutes later.
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Typically, Burnley have all their ducks in a row. The signing of Aaron Lennon from Everton is the latest in a string of transfers completed at the second or third attempt. Life at Turf Moor can be a hard sell to the outsider, but Sean Dyche is nothing if not persistent and his new recruits tend to be highly appreciative of the culture that greets them once they get through the door.
There’s not an ounce of bad blood in the dressing room, according to ever-present midfielder Jack Cork. The Clarets have been a model of steady progression over the past five years and this season has been notable for the strength in depth they have accumulated and what a happy camp it remains in spite of limited opportunities for those who regularly sit on the bench.
Burnley haven’t won for eight matches but they have been up against Tottenham, Manchester United (twice), Liverpool and Manchester City in that spell, the last seven of which have been crammed into a 28-day period, and three of those without star performer James Tarkowski.
Even so, Burnley were seconds away from victory at Old Trafford, dominated at Huddersfield where they were also denied a clear-cut penalty and suffered a last-gasp defeat at home to Liverpool. In their last two outings, against Crystal Palace and the re-match with United, they conceded just four shots on target but ended up on the wrong side of 1-0 defeats in both.
So regression might be an issue and some would argue there’s plenty more of that fine-margin medicine stored somewhere in a back cupboard waiting to be served up to the Clarets. But this isn’t even close to being a crisis. Newcastle have fired a blank in five of their last seven home matches, so there’s plenty of mileage in the away side on the Asian handicap.
Burnley +0.25 on the Asian handicap at evens