While he believes Newcastle United are a “Premier League club in all but name”, Oxford United ace Kane Hemmings has made it clear his side won’t be showing “too much respect” to their illustrious visitors in this weekend’s Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round tie.
Ladbrokes News spoke exclusively to the 25-year-old ahead of Saturday’s meeting with the Magpies, as he discussed the U’s attacking options, their “brilliant” Third Round display at Rotherham United and why the Yellows need to keep up their trend of expansive football.
Over to you, Kane…
Ladbrokes News: Oxford have made it through three rounds of the Emirates FA Cup already this season. That run began with a trip to underdogs Merstham, before playing another Non-League side, Macclesfield Town. How did you find those games?
Kane Hemmings: The Merstham game was just a case of making sure our attitude and focus was there for the game – and on the day we did that, and things went smoothly [winning 5-0].
Macc were a tough test. The first game didn’t really go to plan for us, and they played some good stuff. But in the Replay, we were hugely improved, and Ryan [Taylor] got us off to the perfect start with an early goal.
As a team, we prepare for every game with the same intensity and ethos, regardless of the opponent, and that’s helped. We’ve gone into those ties with the right attitude and I’m delighted we avoided those potential slip-ups.
LN: That was followed by a 3-2 win at Championship Rotherham in the Third Round. How pleased were you with how the side performed as a whole at New York Stadium?
KH: I thought it was a brilliant display from the lads. For the first half-hour, we completely dominated the game – and I think we were a bit disappointed going in 1-0 up at the break. We could’ve been two or three ahead, easily.
Inevitably, Rotherham came out and gave it more of a go in the second half and levelled the game – and then we had to defend well to stop them going ahead. But when our chances came, me and Phil Edwards put them away.
They got one back very late on, which obviously made it a bit tense, but overall it was a really good performance from us on the day.
LN: Oxford have taken one scalp after another in cup competition in recent seasons – with that Emirates FA Cup victory over Swansea City last season a huge highlight. Are you – and the squad in general – confident of producing another memorable win against Newcastle?
KH: I think if we perform with a real intensity and focus on playing our game instead of the occasion then we’ve got a good chance of getting the result. We might need a bit of luck on the day, but the Emirates FA Cup is all about the underdogs – so maybe that’ll happen for us!
LN: You’ve personally been in brilliant form of late, netting four times in as many games – including that goal away at Rotherham in the last round. What assets would you say can make you a tough test for this Newcastle defence?
KH: I’m good at getting high up the pitch and really pressing – making sure that defenders don’t get a second on the ball. If we give them time to lift their heads up and pick passes out, then we’ll struggle.
At the end of the day, they’re a Premier League club in all but name – they’ve got players who are more than capable of playing at that level.
But we’re not going to sit off Newcastle and give them too much respect. That would spell trouble for us. We need to get stuck into them – and while there may be periods of the game where it’s better to sit in our formation, I’ll press them high up the pitch and try to nick the ball in dangerous areas. I think that’s the best way to go about it.
LN: You’ve mentioned the quality of players that Newcastle have. This is a chance to test yourself against one of the toughest defences in the Championship. How much do you relish this kind of opportunity?
KH: Very much so. But it’s certainly not just me – everyone in the dressing room is really excited and keen to prove what they can do against such a big side. I think it’ll be a great day for the club on Saturday, and we’re all determined to put in the kind of performance that will make it memorable for everyone involved with Oxford United.
LN: Oxford have scored 12 times in the last four games – and the team has been set-up to play very attacking, expansive football. Do you think we’ll see a similar approach against Newcastle, or will we maybe see a more cautious set-up from you guys overall?
KH: I don’t think too much will change, to be honest. When we get the ball into the final third, we’ll be expansive and try to get bodies forward. As much as possible, we’ll play the style of football that’s been working so well recently.
Obviously, when you’re coming up against a side like Newcastle, there’s a likelihood you’ll be under a bit of pressure at times, and during those times we need to make sure everyone stays with their runners and that we’re switched on defensively. But when we get the ball, it’s all about finding the best way to hurt them – and I think that’s by playing our usual brand of football.
LN: Along with yourself – who do you think can be Oxford’s big difference makers coming forward on Saturday?
KH: You’ve got Maggs [striker Chris Maguire] who’s scored 11 goals already this season, and also Rob Hall who has been different class since he’s returned from his knee injury.
And we’ve got a real threat out wide from Marv [Johnson], who’ll be charging down the left wing, then in centre-mid we’ve got John Lundstrom and Ryan Ledson, who are both good on the ball. So I think we’ve got a lot of excellent options going forward.
LN: If Oxford get through this weekend – what’s your dream draw for the Fifth Round? Is there any club or player involved who you’ve always dreamed of facing?
KH: Obviously facing any of the big dogs in the Premier League would be good – but to be honest, I’d be delighted with any draw in the Fifth Round, because it would mean we’re still involved!
Anyway – let’s hope we get through on Saturday first and I’ll think more about that question after!
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