Newcastle booked a place in the EFL Cup fourth round with a comfortable 2-0 home win over Wolves and while the competition is still flush with big guns, the man at the Magpies helm makes them a dark horse to consider.
At 33/1, there may not be many punters rushing to back the Championship side to lift the season’s first major trophy, especially with the likes of 5/1 favourites Liverpool doling out the punishment, but Rafa Benitez has more than proved his worth when it comes to knockout competitions.
You only have to look at the Spaniard’s record when at Liverpool to see where his love affair with knockout competitions was cemented, having begun his trophy haul with the UEFA Cup at former employers Valencia just the season prior to arriving at Anfield.
The instant Champions League success from 2004/05 is well documented but it also overshadows the 3-2 extra-time loss in the League Cup the same season, meaning Rafa’s business with the renamed EFL Cup is still unfinished.
Landing the FA Cup the very next term would soften the blow, and subsequent Fifa Club World Cup, UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia conquests as Inter, Chelsea and Napoli boss respectively, reveal one of the most trophy-happy gaffers on the planet.
But could Newcastle actually do it? Far bigger tests than Cheltenham and Wolves will surely await the St James’ Park outfit, but recent heroics of Football League clubs offer genuine hope.
Championship Cardiff and League Two Bradford reached finals in the past five editions, proving the showpiece is not the exclusive domain of the Premier League’s top brass.
And although the Geordies dropped down a division, thanks to hefty parachute payments the majority of their big names stayed on Tyneside, plus they were able to add the likes of Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie, a scorer against Wolves on Tuesday night.
Aside from a blip against the same opponents in the Championship, the five straight wins which preceded it, to the loss of one goal, suggests Benitez’s men should maintain high levels of confidence as the season pans out.
Of course, the balls will have to be kind, but Rafa knows the thirst for major silverware at a club made to wait 60 years since until they last had one to celebrate.
All eyes will now turn to Wednesday night’s draw.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.