Where to start? Since Eddie Howe’s arrival, it seemed like heart and desire had been restored into a below-par squad. Now, the whole of Tyneside is questioning whether that is true.
The defeat to the U’s is simply inexcusable, it’s embarrassing, even more so that it was in front of chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who flew in from Saudi Arabia on the morning of the game. What will he make of that? That’s not mentioning the sell-out St James’ Park crowd either.
It’s a stark reminder of the urgency for new signings, and it speaks volumes that is again being reinforced against a club in third-tier of English football. Cambridge deserved it.
In a week of nothing but positivity following Kieran Trippier’s arrival, Newcastle have somehow managed to throw that out of the window.
A central defender is needed, but perhaps a new striker now takes priority. Four different players were tried there - Allan Saint-Maximin, Jacob Murphy, Ryan Fraser, all wingers by trade - and failed.
The main target remains Premier League survival. The dust will settle from this defeat, no matter how embarrassing. But that’s only if Newcastle bounce back against Watford. They have to. Not doing so is unthinkable.
Player ratings - we pick out six
Kieran Trippier: While Newcastle are left to feel embarrassed by their FA Cup exit, Trippier’s debut is small reminder that things can only get better. More new signings are expected to arrive before the month is out, and boy does Howe & Co need them. That’s an understatement, of course.
Jacob Murphy: Unfortunate to be withdrawn on the hour-mark for Miguel Almiron. Murphy started the game as a left winger before swapping with Saint-Maximin to become the central striker. Far from his ‘natural’ position - maybe he’s never played there before - Murphy saw a first-half header and volley excellently saved by Dimitar Mitov. After the break, he was denied by the offside flag. In a shameful performance, Murphy looked the most likely to find the net.
Matt Ritchie: Ritchie was hugely fortunate not to concede a 36th-minute penalty when Mitov’s punt forward saw the United left-back get the wrong side of Harvey Knibbs. Perhaps incredibly, VAR agreed with referee Michael Salisbury’s decision, despite the majority of Toon fans on social media believing it was a “stonewaller”. Away from the spot-kick incident, Ritchie looked vulnerable defensively, still.
Sean Longstaff: An awful display from the Geordie midfielder saw him substituted after 60 minutes. Has a rumoured bid from Everton got to the player’s head? Possibly, but Longstaff’s carelessness in possession is nothing new to Newcastle fans. Praise from his performance against Manchester United 12 days ago has gone right out the window.
Allan Saint-Maximin: Should have dragged off at half-time. You can usually tell if Saint-Maximin’s is ‘on it’ from the opening 10 minutes, and so it proved he wasn’t. The Frenchman headed straight down the tunnel at full-time, despite Trippier calling for him to come back and appreciate the sell-out crowd.
Dimitar Mitov: As shocking as Newcastle’s performance was, the Cambridge goalkeeper was in exceptional form when called upon, particularly in the first-half. Jacob Murphy was twice the victim of standout saves, firstly as Mitov saved his header from close-range before tipping a powerful volley onto the crossbar. Prevented the game from going to extra-time with a sublime save from Joelinton.
Joe Ironside: The match-winner, a sinking sight for Newcastle fans when he wheeled away in celebration on 56 minutes. Just under three years ago, Ironside was plying his trade for National League North side Kidderminster Harries. A career-high for him, as he silenced a sellout home crowd at St James’ Park.
The rest of ratings
Newcastle: Dubravka 4, Trippier 6, Krafth 4 Schar 4 Ritchie 3 (Manquillo, 79: N/A) Shelvey 4, Longstaff 3 (Almiron: 60, 5) Murphy 7 (Willock, 60, 4) , Joelinton 4 Fraser 5, Saint-Maximin 4. Subs not used: Gillespie, Dummett, Hendrick, Anderson, White.
Who do Newcastle play next?
Newcastle host Watford at St James’ Park in a big Premier League relegation six-pointer on Saturday (January 15).
Howe will hope to have a couple of new signing through the door following the arrival of Trippier.