FIRST Rochdale, then Oxford United, and now West Bromwich Albion. Newcastle United’s road to Wembley is turning into a ramble around the Football League.

For the first time since 2006, when wins over Mansfield, Cheltenham and Southampton preceded a defeat to Chelsea, Newcastle are in the FA Cup fifth round. Their progress to this point has been tortuous, requiring 390 minutes of football to see off two teams from League One, but by the time May’s Wembley showpiece rolls around, no one will remember how the two teams left standing made it to the final.

That was certainly the case in 1998, when Kenny Dalglish’s Newcastle team made it all the way to Wembley, having only come up against top-flight opposition once on their route to the final. A quarter-final win over Barnsley preceded a semi-final victory over Sheffield United, but the identity of the opposition did not matter a jot when Dalglish led his players onto the Wembley turf.

As Steve Bruce pointed out in the wake of Tuesday’s scrambled success at the Kassam Stadium, the only thing that really matters is making it into the next round. For the first time in more than a decade, Newcastle’s players can look ahead to fifth-round day and plan for something other than a day off.

“It’s a little bit of history, you know, because it’s a long time since we went this far in the FA Cup,” said Allan Saint-Maximin, whose superb extra-time winner spared his team-mates’ blushes at Oxford after they had conceded two goals in the final six minutes of normal time. “Everybody knows it’s really important for the club, for the history, for the fans.

“It’s really important, that’s why we took the beat team to win the game. I came on after Joelinton went off injured and had to work a lot, but thankfully we won the game. I think everybody was really happy.”

As the viral video clips of a certain Newcastle fan celebrating Saint-Maximin’s winner prove, some were rather happier than others.

The sense of relief that coursed through the 1,800-strong away end on Tuesday was replicated in the dressing room and dug-out, underlining the strength of yearning for a meaningful cup run.

For far too long, Newcastle have disregarded the cup competitions, seeing them as an unwanted distraction from the more profitable enterprise of remaining in the Premier League. The diktat came from the top, with Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley pressuring a succession of managers including Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren to select weakened teams for cup matches in order to prioritise subsequent league games.

There was a shift in emphasis under Rafael Benitez, although the Spaniard’s pragmatism meant he would routinely rotate for the cup competitions anyway, but speak to anyone in a position of influence at St James’ Park now, and they will insist the desire to target rather than shun the cups is both genuine and universally-held.

Ashley has spoken publicly of his desire to win silverware before he departs – perhaps that, rather than any takeover posturing was the reason for his attendance on Tuesday night – and Bruce shares his owner’s desire to go with all guns blazing when the cup matches roll around.

“It rekindled it for me a few years ago when I got to the final with Hull,” said Bruce. “I vowed then I wouldn’t be playing weakened teams. The beauty of the FA Cup is that it doesn’t take a lot of matches to reach the final. A club like Newcastle is capable of winning five games to get to Wembley. Let’s try our best and see where it takes us.”