Belfast Telegraph

Avoiding early exit a major relief, says Bruce

Rochdale 1 Newcastle United 1

Steve Bruce
Steve Bruce

By Mark Staniforth

Steve Bruce was left floundering for positives after Newcastle narrowly avoided another FA Cup calamity with a 1-1 draw at League One Rochdale on Saturday.

The Magpies left Spotland with the derision of around 4,000 visiting supporters ringing in their ears after Aaron Wilbraham snatched a late and well-deserved equaliser for the home side.

But so far has the six-time winners' knockout stock fallen - they have not reached the fifth round once since Mike Ashley took over as owner in 2007 - Bruce acknowledged that earning a replay might almost qualify as a success.

Bridling at suggestions that given the extent of his side's injury list he might almost have preferred the hosts to complete the job, Bruce insisted: "Of course I would rather have a replay.

"We are in the hat and we haven't been in the hat for a few years. We've got a replay to face and some might need a game after coming back from injury so it's not a bad thing.

"I've always said the FA Cup can provide us with another opportunity, and we've got another game."

Bruce's men almost did not have to face the replay predicament after Oliver Rathbone, who had come close on three previous occasions, rolled a glorious chance wide in the final minute.

Newcastle had dominated the opening period with Miguel Almiron sweeping them ahead and strike partner Joelinton missing a series of chances, but changes by home boss Brian Barry-Murphy reaped rewards as they stormed back to level through Wilbraham, Dale's self-styled 'Peter Pan' who says he has no intention of calling time on his football adventures.

The 40-year-old - whose leveller was set up by a team-mate 23 years his junior - insists age is just a number as he looks to extend his storied career.

Wilbraham's career started at Stockport in 1997 and included a handful of Premier League appearances with Norwich and Crystal Palace but he insisted Saturday's leveller ranks high on his list of career achievements.

Wilbraham said: "It is the best feeling in the world to score in the FA Cup against a Premier League club, and it is massive for a club like Rochdale to get a replay at St James' Park.

"I scored for Stockport against Manchester City and now this. I keep having these moments and I just want to keep it going for as long as possible.

"I think you can never relax and get too comfortable. I have looked after myself better than in my younger years. I still train every day and I want to carry on.

"My target was 35 to begin with, then it was 38 because it was 20 years after I made my debut. Then it was 40 and now the boys are telling me, 'Surely you can make 42?'"

As well as being an integral part of Rochdale's recent successes on the pitch, Wilbraham insists he has no problem remaining relevant in a squad sprinkled with teenagers including his 17-year-old goal provider Luke Matheson.

"I'm the DJ in the dressing room, so they have to put up with my tunes no matter what," joked Wilbraham. "I try and keep it current for the young lads. The boys call me Peter Pan because I have that rapport. I have a brother and nephew who are 24, 25, so I can fit in with the cool kids."

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