Six years ago Leicester City were Premier League champions contemplating a Champions League knockout tie with Sevilla, while Newcastle had just lost to Championship rivals Blackburn Rovers. The two clubs’ switch in status was laid bare here in another brilliant display by Eddie Howe’s side, whose dominance could best be measured not by their two-goal win but by the sheer quantity and quality of chances spurned.
For much of the game Newcastle scooped up fistfuls of xG, then proceeded to scatter them anywhere but the back of the net. Bruno Guimaraes and Sean Longstaff conspired to miss the best of the bunch but Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron and Joelinton were also left scratching their heads at various moments in the first hour, wondering if this would be one of those nights where the net never bulged; the threat of an instant penalty shootout with no extra time loomed constantly in the background with the score goalless.
But then Dan Burn transformed into prime David Ginola to break Leicester’s resistance, Joelinton added another on the counter, and Newcastle’s place in the last four was secure. They have reached the League Cup final only once in their history, losing to Manchester City in 1976, and the same opponents may well need to be dislodged either in the semi-finals or final if they are to finally win it in 2023. But this is slowly but surely developing into a Newcastle side like no other, and they will fear no one, not even the Premier League champions. Indeed on this evidence, who would relish two legs against Newcastle right now?
Leicester were given a flurry of early warnings of the type of night that might unfold. Newcastle started ferociously, like a over-confident boxer who’d promised a first-round knockout. Longstaff bounced a shot inches over the crossbar with 50 seconds on the clock, and a minute later Bruno was lashing a half-volley just wide of Danny Ward’s post. After six minutes, Wilson missed the target, then Almiron’s shot was blocked, and another Bruno chance was wasted before even 15 minutes had been played.
At that point you could have been forgiven for thinking this was a mismatch akin to the night’s other quarter-final, where League One’ Charlton Athletic were beaten by Manchester United, such was the chasm in quality at St James’ Park. By half an hour Newcastle’s shot count was nine, their share of possession more than 60 per cent. And yet the clinical edge was lacking.
Gradually, they began to deflate, and Leicester had room to breathe. The shift was encapsulated just before half-time when a weary Burn hauled Marc Albrighton to the ground to stop a counter-attack, and took the yellow card without complaint.
The break came at the wrong time for Leicester. Newcastle drew breath, sucked on some half-time oranges and returned revitalised to hunt for that killer blow once more. Joelinton hit the post within a minute, Longstaff squandered another chance, but it felt like the moment was coming.
Just as they seemed to be slowing down, the giant figure of Burn collected the ball on the left-hand side of the box and squirmed through challenges like a swaying caravan before sliding an accurate low finish past Ward. It was the boy from Blyth’s first goal since joining Newcastle last January, having played their in his youth, and the 30-year-old celebrated a lifelong dream realised with all the glee of a teenage debutant.
The second was crafted by Almiron, jinking across the field on to what is fast becoming one of the most dangerous left foots in the Premier League. He spotted Joelinton lurking in space and threaded a perfect pass, the sort that just required clean contact to knock it past the goalkeeper on the run, and the Brazilian obliged.
Leicester had their moments when Jamie Vardy came off the bench late in the piece but hit wide with two good sights of goal, perhaps the result of a little rustiness. But any late comeback would not have felt deserved, on a night when Newcastle showed their superiority.