Knowing that the winners would face Coventry at home in the quarter finals, the chance to return to Wembley and avenge 2019 was staring us in the face.
You wouldn’t guess it with the belief running through this team. No matter the opposition, O’Neil has us perfectly set-up to compete in every game.
I’ve read a few grumblings online in regard to the defensive nature of the performance, which I’m baffled by.
Brighton were always going to dominate the ball. We took an early lead, caused them issues in the first-half with the press then managed the game superbly in the second period.
Yes, we could have taken better care of the ball at times, which O’Neil addressed post-match. There’s many things to like about Gary, not least his tactical acumen and communicating the areas we need to improve in.
The whole defence was superb in repelling the Seagulls, but Santi Bueno and Doc deserve special praise.
Santi grows with every performance and last night was the best of the lot. His positioning ensured that he easily dealt with everything in front on him, while Doc mopped up everything with aplomb on the right.
As for the other two changes, Doyle is a joy to watch on the ball and isn’t afraid of the physical stuff. Meanwhile, Bellegarde’s first-half performance is exactly what we want to see from him.
He caused the Brighton defence all sorts of problems with his direct running and did superbly to create the winner for Mario, who has found an appetite this season for joining attacks.
It’s disappointing to lose Hwang for Newcastle but he’s miles off the pace and a short period out of the firing line might not be a bad thing.
As displayed by the four changes tonight, every member of the squad is stepping up and taking their chance under Gary.
Yes, we’re short up front, but O’Neil has to take a lot of credit for finding ways around this and coaxing performances out of the likes of Sarabia, who is now instrumental to the front line.
Fighting for the European places in the Premier League and tantalisingly close to Wembley in the FA Cup – pinch me.