Forty-year-old substitute Aaron Wilbraham said it was a “great feeling” to score the dramatic late equaliser that earned League One Rochdale a draw against Premier League Newcastle United in the FA Cup third round.
Wilbraham, who played in the top flight for Crystal Palace and Norwich City, pounced from six yards after a pass from 17-year-old substitute Luke Matheson to secure a replay at St James’ Park.
“I’m just happy to be involved,” said Wilbraham after cancelling out Miguel Almiron’s fierce first-half finish.
“The second half went so quickly – I could’ve played for another hour.”
It was Wilbraham’s third goal in three games. He scored twice against Fleetwood Town in the league on 26 December and dedicated that double to his late mother, who died earlier that month.
“Aaron’s mum passed away recently so he has been playing that memory the past couple of weeks,” said Rochdale boss Brian Barry-Murphy. “He feels he should have started this tie, but he made a big impact in the second half.”
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce had been hit by a lengthy injury list before the tie, but the visitors dominated for long spells and it was no surprise the team 49 places up the ladder took the lead – Almiron pouncing after Christian Atsu’s cutback in the 17th minute.
Rochdale keeper Robert Sanchez produced fine saves to prevent Joelinton and Yoshinori Muto increasing the lead, while Magpies keeper Martin Dubravka kept out former Manchester United youth player Oliver Rathbone.
Dale skipper Ian Henderson hit the post after Rathbone’s shot was parried by Dubravka before the impressive Rathbone was again denied by a smart stop from the Newcastle keeper.
However, Rochdale earned a money-spinning replay thanks to Wilbraham’s tidy finish – and Rathbone even went close to a winner in the closing stages.
Rochdale fans stayed to applaud their team off the pitch at the final whistle after the third-tier club earned a second FA Cup replay against a top-flight side in two years.
In 2018, they forced a 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur before losing the return at Wembley.
Against Newcastle, the team just four points above the League One relegation zone came back strongly after being dominated in the first half.
Newcastle should have had the tie sewn up by the interval but were made to pay for their misses by veteran forward Wilbraham – who scored his first senior goal, for Stockport County at Manchester City, in April 1998.
He prodded home from the pass of Matheson, who was 16 when he scored against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup in September – as substitutes 23 years apart in age combined.
It might have been even better for the hosts – the eye-catching Rathbone firing just wide in the dying moments as the Magpies were made to hang on by hard-working Rochdale.
“It’s a huge result for the club,” added Barry-Murphy. “I was a little disappointed with the way we played in the first half but the way we finished was important. It felt like a second-half to be proud of.”
On earning a replay at St James’ Park, he added: “We don’t complain about the fixture congestion. We relish it in the cup. It’s what the club’s about and we’re delighted for that to continue.”
Newcastle is six-time FA Cup winners but has disappointed repeatedly in the competition in recent seasons, failing to reach the fifth round since 2006.
That prompted Bruce, a three-time winner in his playing days with Manchester United, to state on his appointment as Magpies boss in July 2019 that a healthy cup run was one of his priorities.
Having gone out of the Carabao Cup at the first hurdle earlier this season, Bruce is keen to make a mark in the FA Cup – yet his side was thankful to be in Monday’s fourth-round draw by the end after a rousing Rochdale fightback.
The Magpies had to prepare for this tie against the backdrop of a string of injuries to key players, but their manager was still able to field six players who started the last Premier League game against Leicester City on Wednesday.
In addition, Almiron, Dubravka, Federico Fernandez and Joelinton were starting their fourth games in the space of 10 days.
Atsu started brightly and it was his cutback which allowed Almiron to score his second goal of the season – a powerful strike as Rochdale backed off.
Newcastle, who lost Almiron and Muto to the groin and hip injuries respectively, dominated possession and carved out chance after chance but were unable to finish off their opponents.
In the end, they were made to pay as Wilbraham struck to ensure both teams will meet again to decide who makes it through to the fourth round.
“We stopped causing Rochdale a problem,” said Bruce, who revealed Newcastle had twice been “knocked back” in attempts to bring in new players since the January transfer window opened.
“Our frailties were there to see. You cannot dominate the game like we did and not make it count.”
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Source – Sport365coza