If the 22 years before Eddie Howe’s arrival that Newcastle fans spent hoping for another cup final felt like an age, then the last 15 months will have hardly sunk in.Since arriving on Tyneside, the former Bournemouth boss has breathed new life into St James’ Park. A resurgent 11th-place finish last year, flirting with European qualification this season and now, a date with destiny in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday.Newcastle’s opponents on Sunday will be the same team that cost them 24 years ago in 1999. On that day it was Teddy Sheringham – brought on after an early injury to Roy Keane – who inspired Manchester United to a 2-0 FA Cup victory.Looking back, Warren Barton still chuckles as he mentions Sheringham. “When Roy Keane went off after that tackle with Gary [Speed], we thought it was the perfect opportunity. Then Teddy comes on, slots one away and changes the whole game.”The former Newcastle right-back had the misfortune of watching the entire match play out from the substitutes bench. Having started every game up until the final, manager Ruud Gullit decided to replace Barton with 20-year-old Andy Griffin at Wembley.Barton has flown in from California and will be watching the final from the sideline once again. He acknowledges it’s been “far too long” since Newcastle reached a final but is full of praise for the job Howe has done to get his side to this point.“He’s done a marvellous job,” Barton says. “He’s given the team and the club an identity that the fans want – they want them to go out and try and win games, to try and put other teams under pressure and make it uncomfortable for them.“They’re not the finished article at all and they’ve shown that at times this season but you can see there’s a process and the foundations of a great side.”That process has involved nurturing talent already available to Howe when he arrived. Joelinton once typified the confused and lacklustre recruitment policy of former owner Mike Ashley. Now the Brazilian is transformed – playing deeper in midfield but providing purpose and drive in Newcastle’s engine room. Miguel Almiron took time to settle but he too has flourished under Howe, who has also been the beneficiary of smart recruitment.“Trippier’s signing set the tone,” Barton notes. “They spent money on a proven player and he has delivered. Sven Botman and Bruno Guimaraes have come in alongside that and they’ve been sensational.“They needed key additions but the recruitment has been smart. Combined with a cohesive backroom staff and it has united the fans and the city along the journey.”That journey takes them to the final on Sunday. Erik ten Hag’s side have lost just once this year and fresh off a Europe League victory against Barcelona they are a side full of confidence. Rashford is red hot, Fernandes is back to his best and Casemiro’s guile underpins it all. Faced with such a task, how do you stop this United side?Rashford has scored 16 goals in 18 games since the World Cup ahead of Wembley (Getty Images)“It’s going to be a challenge, no doubt. United are firing on all cylinders and they’ve got one of the hottest players in the world right now with Rashford.“When they’ve been successful this season they’ve always liked to break and counter with the pace. The message from Eddie will be about the space in behind. If you can nullify that and get Casemiro into uncomfortable areas it will be huge.”Barton is keen, though, to point out how Newcastle hurt United: “Their fullbacks like to get forward and leave the centre halves isolated. That’s an area of the pitch Newcastle can look to target, especially with Tripper’s quality and delivery.“Guimaraes coming back is huge. You’ve seen it in the games when he’s been out that they’ve missed his creativity and control in the middle of the park.”Sunday’s final has one more layer of narrative to unpick. Nick Pope’s sending-off against Liverpool last weekend cruelly denied him his place at Wembley. Martin Dubravka is cup-tied, having played for United earlier in the season, meaning the opportunity will fall to third-choice goalkeeper, Loris Karius.Loris Karius is set to start for Newcastle (Getty Images)It will be almost two years to the day since the German’s last start in a competitive fixture and his first for an English side since that infamous and error-strewn performance against Real Madrid in 2018. It’s a movie script few could have written and a chance at redemption that few would have imagined.“This game could turn his career around,” says Barton. “He’ll have bad memories from that day but the task for him is to channel that experience and the heartache that’s been brewing since and put it into a performance on Sunday.”“His career has sort of drifted away after that final but moments like this can change your life. If he goes out and wins the game for Newcastle he’ll be loved forever – that’s how quickly this game can change.”Victory would not only change Karius’ trajectory but reverse 68 years of heartache since Newcastle’s last cup triumph. “Competing again is all the fans have ever wanted all these years – playing in the final is just the cherry on top,” Barton says. It may not come to pass this time but if the last 15 months are anything to go by, Sunday is just the start.
Carabao Cup final offers Loris Karius chance to ‘turn his career around’
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