WHETHER Mike Ashley likes it or not, Newcastle United are in the next round of the Capital One Cup.
And the players actually played like they want to go all the way in the competition, which isn’t a “priority” for the club’s hierarchy.
Newcastle didn’t have it all their own way against Gillingham last night, but they did enough to book their place in the third round on a night when Manchester United were humbled by MK Dons.
The 1,000 or so fans Toon who made the long journey to Gillingham won’t be getting carried away just yet.
But thanks to a own goal – John Egan turned in a first-half cross from Gabriel Obertan – they can at least dream, though it might not be a dream that is shared by owner Ashley.
And United manager Alan Pardew will have taken heart from the spirit shown by his team and a number of individual performances, not least those of Obertan and Mehdi Abeid.
Obertan’s pace troubled Gillingham all game and Abeid controlled the midfield with a welcome authority.
Pardew, meanwhile, felt the 1-0 scoreline didn’t reflect Newcastle’s dominance at Priestfield.
“Obviously, the scoreline didn’t really reflect our dominance,” said the manage.
“But I’ve been here many times as a manager and I’ve played here and it’s a very, very difficult place to come.
“We controlled the game, more or less, all the way through.
“I’m kind of frustrated that we didn’t score more than the one goal.
“They were difficult to break down, but I can’t be disappointed.
“Our application, typified by the two centre halves, was great.
“We showed Gillingham absolute respect.”
Those Newcastle fans who travelled to Priestfield by train will have passed a rusting Soviet era submarine half-submerged in the River Medway in Kent.
Pardew knew a defeat would have left him holed below the waterline in the eyes of many fans, who crave a trophy after 45 barren years on Tyneside.
Owner Ashley, of course, is more ambivalent towards the cups.
But his team, like the Black Widow Soviet submarine during its Cold War heydey, had enough bite.
Pardew, without injured midfielder Jack Colback, made six changes, but the starting XI, which included Fabricio Coloccini, Siem de Jong, Daryl Janmaat and Tim Krul, was strong.
Clearly, Pardew didn’t want to take too many chances.
Teenager Rolando Aarons was also handed his full debut on a damp night at Priestfield, where Newcastle, 2-1 victors in a 1976 League Cup tie, had played just once before in their history.
After a slow start the game came to life in the 11th minute.
Massadio Haidara, starting at left-back ahead of Paul Dummett, reached the byline and pulled the ball back for de Jong, who did well to turn and shoot, but his effort was blocked.
Gillingham raced upfield but referee Oliver Langford wasn’t fooled by a dive from Cody McDonald, who had been tackled in the area by Coloccini.
Midfielder Abeid, who has seemingly played his way back into Pardew’s plans at United, dragged a shot wide of Stephen Bywater’s goal in the 14th minute.
Newcastle’s breakthrough came in the 23rd minute.
Obertan reached the right byline and his low cross was turned in by Egan. The own goal silenced a previously boisterous home crowd, and more importantly drained the confidence out of Peter Taylor’s League One side.
Aarons tested Bywater with a shot after more good work from Haidara down the left.
Gillingham’s Matt Fish tried his luck with a curling shot from outside the area and Krul was relieved to see the ball fly a yard wide of his right-hand post.
The pace of Obertan, if not the final product, continued to cause problems, but United couldn’t add to their advantage.
Haidara almost put Newcastle further ahead early in the second half. The 21-year-old, who found himself in space 30 yards from goal, struck a fierce left-footed shot which crashed against the crossbar.
Pardew replaced Aarons – who had taken a knock – with Remy Cabella in the 60th minute.
Coloccini drove a shot from distance into the arms of Bywater in the 61st minute. Ayoze Perez soon came on in place of de Jong, who had shown a few glimpses of his talent behind lone striker Emmanuel Riviere.
Luke Norris gave Krul a scare in the 70th minute after Cabella gave the ball away but while Gillingham belatedly came at their visitors, United had enough about them to see the game out.
Star turn Abeid believes the win was never in doubt.
“The most important thing was to win, and we did,” said Abeid, who is hoping to feature against Crystal Palace in Saturday’s Premier League game at St James’s Park.
“We showed some character, and we have to keep going and improve game by game.
“I think we were in control of the game and played well.”