Twelve years after Rafa Benitez and Liverpool saw off Luton Town en route to winning the FA Cup, his Newcastle United side remain in the hat having beaten the same lowly opposition in the third round.

Remarkably, this is the first time since Mike Ashley took charge that United have progressed to the fourth round in consecutive seasons and Saturday’s win was just their fifth in the competition in total; the Sports Direct tycoon arrived on Tyneside just a year after Liverpool’s 2006 triumph.

It is a pathetic record. A record that a club like Newcastle, who have lifted the FA Cup six times, should be ashamed of.

Unfortunately, Ashley’s agenda is to prioritise often aimless league campaigns over the type of cup adventures that keep supporters dreaming and trophy cabinets gleaming.

United have tripped through to the last eight of the League Cup on a couple of occasions, relying on fringe men, and similarly scraped into the quarter-finals of the Europa League in their sole continental campaign under Ashley; for context, Newcastle had played European football in each of the six seasons immediately prior to his arrival on Tyneside.

And so, ludicrously, Benitez deserves credit for defeating a League Two side at St James’ Park.

Ashley’s scarcely attentive eye would no doubt have noted any first team injuries but there were none, with Jacob Murphy and Dwight Gayle impressing.

The squad were reportedly offered a £20million bonus by the owner to win the competition this season, while he has spoken in the past of only departing after securing silverware.

But Ashley is fooling no-one and there is no doubt that he would have been furious had Jamaal Lascelles or Mikel Merino picked up a costly injury.

Instead, having rotated the group to good effect over the festive period, Benitez again protected his stars on Saturday – with Lascelles substituted as a precaution – and still saw off Luton; in this climate, that modest achievement is worthy of genuine praise.

The juggling act will now continue in the next round – unless, of course, there is swift progress on the takeover front.

Benitez, and the rest of Tyneside, can but hope.

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