Newcastle's Saudi-backed renaissance continues as Magpies reach EFL Cup final 

There's never any grey area when it comes to Newcastle United. It's always black and white.
Newcastle's Saudi-backed renaissance continues as Magpies reach EFL Cup final 

WEMBLEY CALLING: Newcastle United's Sean Longstaff celebrates.

Newcastle 2 Southampton 1 (Newcastle win 3-1 on aggregate) 

It's either the welcome renaissance of one of English football's most recognisable institutions, or the continued creep of the most insidious kind of Saudi sports washing. 

There's never any grey area when it comes to Newcastle United. It's always black and white.

Whatever your viewpoint, Eddie Howe's side have propelled a club rejuvenated to a Wembley final for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. 

The city centre bars preparing to be drunk dry in the immediate aftermath of the final whistle weren't left disappointed as this part of the world lived up to its party-central reputation.

A generation of twentysomething Toon Army foot soldiers will have a chance to see their heroes at the national stadium and plans for the mass exodus are already well advanced. Will the last fan heading for the capital on February 26 please turn off the lights?

Sean Longstaff, whose two first-half goals helped to take them there, would no doubt have been among the sea of supporters journeying south had he not fulfilled every Geordie kid's ambition of pulling on the black and white stripes for real.

We're not saying it's a long time since their previous visit, but Wembley has been knocked down and rebuilt since the Magpies last descended on that particular corner of North-West London.

Eddie Howe's side will face Manchester United unless Nottingham Forest can pull-off an even more fanciful comeback than the one which proved beyond Southampton, who to their credit put up a valiant fight.

Nathan Jones had been asked if it was mission implausible or mission impossible, to which he wittily replied that he wouldn't let that particular reporter conduct his pre-match team-talk.

It was a reasonable inquiry given Southampton had won here just once in their previous 18 visits here as they looked to overturn Joelinton's solitary goal in a first-leg that was far more one-sided than the scoreline suggested.

There had been a palpable air of complacency on Tyneside all week with talk of train travel being booked, hotels secured and questions asked whether the Trafalgar Square fountains were still there to relieve yourself in during a Saturday night out in London.

Fortunately for those supporters now confirming plans for what should be a weekend to remember regardless of the result, Howe isn't the type to count his chickens.

His players heeded the warning from the head coach that the job was nowhere near done, although in truth they were home and hosed as Longstaff found the net twice with barely 20 minutes on the clock.

Such was the ferocity of Newcastle's start against the Saints' five-man backline, the ball had barely been out of the Southampton half when Kieran Trippier burst down the right and into the box to tee-up Longstaff, who beat Gavin Bazunu with a crisp angled drive into the bottom corner from 15 yards.

Longstaff fired wide, and Joelinton had a goal-bound effort blocked as the hosts threatened to run riot. It was no real surprise as they doubled their advantage on the night when Longstaff timed his run into the box perfectly to sweep home a Miguel Almiron cut-back after a neat link-up down the left between Joe Willock and Joelinton.

Jones' side still hadn't had a touch in the Newcastle box at this stage, but that didn't prevent them from pulling one back in spectacular style before half-time with the first goal conceded by Nick Pope in 15-and-a-half hours' football, seemingly almost back to the Neolithic era, or more accurately October 8 when it came to having last shipped one at St James' Park.

Willock was again involved in the build-up, but not in a way the midfielder will look back on with any satisfaction as his mis-placed pass surrendered possession to Che Adams 30 yards from goal. With few options but to have a go, the forward did just that to comprehensively beat Pope to his right with a stunning finish into the bottom corner.

Southampton failed to rediscover the momentum that had been halted by the interval. Even against 10 men for the final quarter-of-an hour they couldn't find a way through when Guimaraes was sent off for a heavy challenge on substitute Sam Edozie, referee Paul Tierney consulting with VAR before upgrading his initial yellow card. 

The Brazilian misses the next three games, but will be clear to play in the final.

Newcastle might have stretched their advantage but for a fine double save from Bazunu to deny Longstaff and Alexander Isak as the celebrations from the stands grew to a crescendo towards the final whistle, their Saudi backers able to sit back and enjoy the reflected glory.

It's cost them the thick-end of £1bn for the privilege, but given their bottomless wealth, that amounts to loose change in the money-fuelled morally-bankrupt modern landscape of the super-rich state-funded Premier League elite.

Newcastle (4-3-3): Pope 7; Trippier 8, Schar 6, Botman 7, Burn 6; Longstaff 9, Guimaraes 6, Willock 6 (Saint-Maximin 61, 6); Almiron 6 (Murphy 62, 4) (Anderson 90, 5), Wilson 5 (Isak 61, 6) (Lascelles 90, 5), Joelinton 6.

Southampton (5-3-2): Bazunu 7; Bree 6, Lyanco 3 (Perraud 46, 6), Bednarek 6, Salisu 6 (Mara 88, 5), Walker-Peters 4 (Edozie 36, 6); Ward-Prowse 6, Diallo 6 (Aribo 77, 6); Alcaraz 5 (Lavia 46, 6); Armstrong 6, Adams 7.

Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire)

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