Newcastle continued their woeful form in the FA Cup with a dismal 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, forcing a replay at Ewood Park.
After going down 1-0 to a Bradley Dack header in the second half, an uninspiring Newcastle team found themselves in a Catch 22 situation.
They could lose the game and face the wrath of supporters and critics, or equalise, increasing their fixtures schedule for the month.
A late Matt Ritchie penalty secured the latter, and although saving some dignity, it’s left them in an awful position.
More games, more risk
Rafa Benitez himself bemoaned the draw after the game, acknowledging it was the worst possible result.
When quizzed by The Chronicle if a draw was the worst case scenario, Benitez said: “Yes, in terms of another game, another situation that you have to manage with more minutes, more players, more risk.”
At this point in the season, Newcastle simply cant afford for players to suffer injuries, particularly their midfielders.
Mo Diame is only just recovering from an injury, and Jonjo Shelvey is still not quite back to his best.
But with three games now scheduled for the next fortnight, match fitness is certainly going to effect some key players.
Unfortunately for the manager, he’s now seen what his fringe team are capable of in the cup. Playing the same players in the Blackburn replay risks further embarrassment.
Christian Atsu, Ayoze Perez and Shelvey came on as substitutes on Saturday and completely changed the intensity of the game.
But Benitez needs them fit for the league, and risks burning them out by featuring them in the replay.
The manager has little option but to play it safe at Ewood Park, and field a similarly weak youth side.
A tough Premier League Sandwich
Worst of all is that the replay will come just before an absolutely vital Premier League game against Cardiff.
The Welsh side currently sit in 17th place, but are tied with 15th placed Newcastle on 18 points.
Worryingly, Cardiff play rock bottom Huddersfield the week before, and so there’s every chance they may have overtaken Newcastle by the time the two play each other.
It means Newcastle will need to beat them to stay above the drop zone, and so is an important fixture.
Newcastle also play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge just three days before, where they’ll be lucky to nick a point.
However it can be done, as proved by 18th placed Southampton in a 0-0 draw last week.
Newcastle’s failure on Saturday means the FA Cup must now truly take a back seat, as Benitez focuses now lie elsewhere.