if 22 years ago Eddie Howethat the arrival Newcastle fans have wasted hope for another cup final, this feels like a century, then the last 15 months will hardly have sunk.
Since coming to Tyneside, the former Bournemouth boss has breathed new life into St James’ Park. The 11th place, resurrected last year, is flirting with the European qualifiers this season and is now a date with destiny. Carabao Cup Finals on Sunday.
Newcastle’s rivals on Sunday will be the same team that cost them 24 years ago in 1999. That day, the inspiration was Teddy Sheringham, who was brought in after Roy Keane’s early injury. Manchester United To a 2-0 FA Cup victory.
Looking back, Warren Barton still giggles at the mention of Sheringham. “When Roy Keane walked away after his fight with Gary (Speed), we thought this was the perfect opportunity. Then Teddy comes along, kidnaps someone and changes the whole game.”
The former Newcastle right-back had the misfortune of watching the entire game from the bench. Starting every game until the final, manager Ruud Gullit decided to replace Barton with 20-year-old Andy Griffin at Wembley.
Barton has flown from California and will be watching the finale from the sidelines once again. He admits it was “too long” for Newcastle to reach the final, but is lauded for the work Howe has done to get his side to this point.
“He did a great job,” Barton says. “He gave the team and club an identity that the fans wanted – they want them to go out and try to win games, put pressure on other teams and bother them.
“They’re not finished products at all, and they’ve shown that from time to time this season, but you can see that it’s a process and the foundations of a great side.”
This process involved developing skills that were already available when Howe arrived. Joelinton once epitomized the confused and lackluster hiring policy of former owner Mike Ashley. Now the Brazilian has changed – he plays deeper in midfield but provides aim and drive in Newcastle’s engine room. Miguel Almiron took time to settle in, but he too thrived under Howe, benefiting from smart recruitment.
“Trippier’s signature set the tone,” says Barton. They spent money on a proven actor and he did it. Sven Botman and Bruno Guimaraes came along and they were sensational.
“They needed substantial additions, but the hiring was wise. Combined with a cohesive backroom staff, it unified fans and the city throughout the journey.”
This journey takes them to the final on Sunday. Erik ten Hag’s team have lost just once this year and have just won a new victory against Barcelona in the Europa League, they are a team full of confidence. Rashford is angry, Fernandes is doing his best, and Casemiro’s cunning is at the root of it all. How do you stop this United side facing such a task?
“It will undoubtedly be a challenge. United are firing all their cylinders and they now have one of the hottest players in the world with Rashford.
“When they’ve been successful this season, they’ve always loved to break and go against the pace. Eddie’s message will be about the back space. If you can neutralize this and get Casemiro into uncomfortable areas, that’s going to be huge.
Still, Barton wants to point out how Newcastle hurt United: “The fullbacks like to get ahead and isolate the midfields. This is an area of the field Newcastle might want to target, especially with the quality and delivery of Tripper.
“The Guimaraes comeback is huge. You saw in the games that they lost their creativity and control when they were in the middle of the park.”
Sunday’s finale has one more layer of narrative to unravel. Nick Pope’s dismissal against Liverpool last weekend brutally denied him his spot at Wembley. The trophy was tied as Martin Dubravka played for United earlier in the season, meaning the opportunity would fall to the third-choice goalkeeper. Loris Karius.
It will be almost two years since Germany’s last start in a competitive fixture, making it the first time an English side has played since that infamous and error-filled performance against Real Madrid in 2018. This is a movie script that very few people could write. and a chance for redemption that few can dream of.
“This game can change his career,” says Barton. “He will have bad memories from that day, but his job is to channel that experience and the heartache that has grown since then and turn it into a performance on Sunday.”
“His career took a little bit off after that final but moments like this can change your life. If he goes out and wins the game for Newcastle he will be loved forever – this game can change that quickly.
The victory would not only change the course of Karius, it would also reverse the heartache of 68 years since Newcastle’s last cup victory. “All the fans wanted all these years was to race again – playing in the final is just the cherry on top,” says Barton. It may not pass this time, but if the last 15 months are anything to go by, Sunday is just the beginning.