ON his first day as a Newcastle United player, Kieran Trippier spoke of his excitement at having joined “a club with massively exciting plans for the future”. On his second, he found himself trying to persuade his team-mates not to disappear straight down the tunnel in the wake of an FA Cup third-round defeat to a team sitting in 16th position in League One. At St James’ Park, reality tends to bite quickly.

Newcastle have been no strangers to FA Cup humiliation in the last couple of decades – they have now failed to reach the fourth round in eight of the last 15 seasons – but things were supposed to different now Mike Ashley is no longer issuing instructions ‘not to prioritise the cups’.

Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, was at St James’ on Saturday in his role as Newcastle’s chairman, watching the club’s latest FA Cup embarrassment alongside Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi. He and Staveley visited the dressing room after the final whistle, with Howe stating they had offered their support to his shell-shocked squad. How much longer before they are issuing P45s?

If nothing else, al-Rumayyan and Staveley will surely have left the stadium starkly aware of the desperate need for a new centre-forward to replace the stricken Callum Wilson, who is set to be sidelined for the next two months.

Allan Saint-Maximin, Jacob Murphy and Ryan Fraser all played as the central striker at various stages of Saturday’s game, but despite firing in 24 shots, Newcastle were unable to score. Yes, Cambridge goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov was in inspired form, making especially remarkable saves from Murphy at the end of the first half and Joelinton at the end of the second, but without Wilson, the Magpies look bereft of a goalscoring threat.

“There is a gap there, but everyone has to step up and fill that gap,” said Eddie Howe. “Yes, losing Callum was a huge blow, and also losing Dwight Gayle was a huge blow as well. We’re left without a recognised striker really.

“Maxi (Saint-Maximin) has played in that position and played very well, but probably more in games where we’re counter-attacking. Here, we had to build the game more ourselves. We had to be the team that led the game took the initiative, and that’s probably something we’re not really used to. We haven’t done that with any regularity, and we just weren’t good enough to do what we needed to do.”

As a result, Joe Ironside’s second-half strike proved decisive, with the Middlesbrough-born striker swivelling in the 18-yard box before sweeping home.

Newcastle still had half-an-hour in which to get back on level terms after Ironside opened the scoring, but if anything, their second-half attacking efforts were even more desultory than their first.

Saint-Maximin charged off down a series of blind alleys, Sean Longstaff was badly off the pace throughout, perhaps unsettled by last week’s speculation over a possible move to Everton, and when he came on as a 60th-minute substitute, Joe Willock sloped around in a manner that suggested he was already regretting turning last season’s loan move into a permanent transfer.

The fact that so many players failed to acknowledge the 50,000-strong crowd after the final whistle might seem like a relatively minor thing, but it is indicative of the kind of deep-rooted malaise that has left Newcastle mired in trouble in the bottom three. A root-and-branch January overhaul is required, but while the funds might be there, we are already a third of the way through the month and the clock is ticking.

“We have a way of working, and my personal opinion is we should always appreciate the fans and thank them for coming, thank them for supporting the team,” said Howe. “Sometimes, that’s very difficult to do when you haven’t had a positive result, and some players probably want to immediately just leave that situation. But we encourage them to recognise the supporters.”