Michael Appleton says Oxford United’s FA Cup win over Newcastle United was the biggest victory of his managerial career.
Appleton’s side booked a place in the last 16 with a 3-0 win on Saturday as the League One club comfortably beat a weakened Newcastle side at the Kassam Stadium.
The defeat for a much-changed Magpie side joins the list of FA Cup infamy since they last lifted the trophy, which includes defeats to non-league Bedford Town (1964) and Hereford United (1972), plus the likes of Stevenage (2011).
Appleton guided Blackburn Rovers to a FA Cup win over Arsenal during his time at Ewood Park. But he feels the home win over Benitez’s Championship high-fliers topped that success.
“The fact they made the changes doesn’t detract from what we’ve achieved,” said Appleton, who watched Newcastle beat Birmingham in this month’s third-round replayhe.
“Having watched the Birmingham game back, I knew the quality they’ve got.
“You only have to look at what they had on the bench. Rafa might disagree, but I think they’ve got a Premier League squad.
“If that side was plying its trade in the Premier League, in terms of the squad and what he’s got available, I do believe they would be in the top half of the Premier League.
“When they get there, I expect them to be contesting in the top half of the Premier League next season.
“For me, personally, beating Newcastle today is probably a bigger achievement than it was beating Arsenal in the fifth round at the Emirates with Blackburn, even though we’re still the only team to do it (in Arsene Wenger’s reign).
“We’re delighted we’re in the last 16. It’s a fantastic achievement for the club.
“We thought it was on when the second goal went in, but it was the save from the penalty that gave the players more belief than actually going ahead.”
Benitez made nine changes for the fourth-round tie.
“I understand it,” said Appleton. “As a manager, there’s no doubt that you want to win every single game.
“I’ll back any manager in terms of that, and the reality is that he sent a team out there expecting to beat Oxford United.
“I will do exactly the same thing on Tuesday (in the Checkatrade Trophy), knowing I’ve got a group of players that can beat Bradford City.
“I’ve done that in all the Checkatrade Trophy games so far. You put out a side that you think can beat the side in front of you. He’s done that, but, unfortunately for them, it’s not happened. We got a bit of luck when we needed it.”