Nick Pope will break new ground when he lines up for Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley later this month.
The 30-year-old England goalkeeper had never reached a final as a professional before doing so with Tuesday night’s victory over Southampton, with a Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-final defeat while on loan at York during the 2013-14 campaign the closest he had previously come.
Indeed, his experience of cup football had been less than enjoyable until the run which has left the Magpies just one game away from ending a wait for silverware which dates back to the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
The final word from tonight from @Popey1992! 🧤
Howay the Lads. ⚫️⚪️ pic.twitter.com/fexayOAnKk
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) February 1, 2023
Pope said: “My experience of finals is zilch. I lost a play-off semi-final with York, not much else is in there.
“I have had a couple of abysmal cup runs, so I’m looking forward to this one.”
Newcastle’s lack of recent success in well-documented – they have not lifted a major domestic trophy since the 1955 FA Cup and their last final appearance came in the same competition in 1999.
But bolstered by the spending power of their Saudi-backed owners and the guidance of head coach Eddie Howe and his staff, they have given themselves every chance of ending an agonising wait within weeks.
It was perhaps fitting that their latest trip to English football’s headquarters was secured not by one of the men drafted in at great expense since Amanda Staveley’ consortium took control at St James’ Park in October 2021, but by academy graduate Sean Longstaff.
Longstaff’s first-half double ensured a 2-1 second leg win on Tyneside and a 3-1 aggregate victory on a night when he was joined on the pitch by fellow locals Dan Burn and Elliot Anderson, with Paul Dummett sitting on the bench.
Summer signing Pope said: “We have a few Geordies in the squad, so it doesn’t go unnoticed. This is more than a football club, this place. You are representing the city and it is something we have taken on really well. It is something I am proud to be part of.”
Bruno Guimaraes’ late red card for a challenge on substitute Sam Edozie – the Brazilian will be suspended for the Premier League games against West Ham, Bournemouth and Liverpool, but will be available for the final – was a disappointment, as was record signing Alexander Isak’s premature departure with suspected concussion.
Pope had earlier suffered a personal blow when his remarkable run without conceding a goal was ended after 931 minutes of football by Che Adams’ stunning 29th-minute strike.
He said: “It was a shame, but massive credit. Damn, Che Adams, that was a great strike. The run was unbelievable, but you are very level-headed, it’s not going to last forever.”
For Saints boss Nathan Jones, the focus now turns back to targeting league survival and eradicating the errors which prompted their early downfall on Tyneside.
The boss reacts to #SaintsFC's Carabao Cup exit:
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) January 31, 2023
Jones said: “The reaction and how they go about it and what they give me in terms of endeavour and everything, I can’t fault them and I am proud of my team.
“But I can’t keep being proud of the reaction and everything when we don’t pick up the results.
“Everything’s down now to the league and we have to make sure that we get the points that we need to stay in the division because that’s the be-all and end-all.”