Newcastle women could beat Howe’s side to ending club’s trophy drought

<span>Fans show support for <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Newcastle United;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Newcastle United</a> women’s manager Becky Langley during the National League Cup semi-final against Portsmouth.</span><span>Photograph: George Wood/The FA/Getty Images</span>

Becky Langley is suddenly well placed to beat Eddie Howe in the race to choreograph the collection of Newcastle United’s first trophy since their Saudi Arabian-led takeover. Howe’s men are desperate to end a club silverware drought stretching back to 1969 when the Fairs Cup was lifted but Langley’s fully professional women’s team may yet lead the way after reaching next month’s National League Cup final.

After beating Portsmouth 2-1 in front of an exuberant 22,307 strong crowd at St James’s Park courtesy of the excellent Georgia Gibson’s 90th-minute winner, Newcastle will now meet semi-professional, Essex-based Hashtag United at Luton’s Kenilworth Road.

An always exciting, often technically impressive semi-final in which Charlotte Potts opened the scoring for Langley’s team before Emma Jones levelled, proved a wonderful advert for women’s football at third-tier level.

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“The adrenaline’s still going,” said Langley, after presiding over her 100th game as Newcastle’s manager and being serenaded by fans who turned the ground into a sea of black and white scarves. “Reaching the final in front of a really special atmosphere today is massive. It’s such a fantastic moment for everyone.

“To get from where we were six or 12 months ago to today, we’ve moved mountains. Five years ago we were paying to play football on terrible pitches; I’m just so proud. I can’t thank our fans enough.”

Langley’s team are top of the third tier’s northern division and set to clinch one of two promotion places to the Championship. Newcastle’s majority Saudi Arabian owners have instructed them to reach the top-tier WSL as soon as possible and there is quite a debate as to whether that aim represents sportswashing or is part of a genuine, wider attempt to modernise women’s role in the Kingdom.

Despite the distinct lack of female emancipation in Saudi, Langley inclines firmly to the latter viewpoint. And particularly after flying to Riyadh before Christmas to help tutor women’s coaches and their players. “Having female role models at Newcastle United is empowering girls and women in Saudi Arabia,” she said. “I think that’s only a positive.”

On a more negative note, Dan Ashworth’s impending defection from the sporting director role at St James’ Park to the equivalent job at Manchester United seems a setback for Langley’s squad. The former FA technical director – currently on gardening leave while the two clubs haggle over compensation – played a key part in creating the foundations for England Lionesses’s recent successes before building a WSL side in his subsequent posting at Brighton.

“Dan’s been fantastic with my team and fantastic with me,” said Langley, whose players limbered up at Newcastle’s men’s training ground on Saturday. “He’s a fantastic sporting director and, more importantly, he’s a really good guy. We’ve got a lot to thank Dan for, he’s been brilliant.”

Given that Howe does not want Ashworth’s successor to have too big a say in first team men’s recruitment and the club’s English based directors appear prepared to grant that wish, Jack Ross might prove a smart replacement.

The Northumberland-based former Sunderland and Hibs manager has a genuine interest in and knowledge of women’s football, holds a Masters degree in economics from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, previously served as an executive in the international players’ Union Fifpro and has written two children’s books.

Perhaps significantly a 47-year-old who, between jobs, has also worked in Newcastle men’s academy is more than intelligent and experienced enough for the role. Like Ashworth, Ross is comfortable in both a tracksuit and a suit and might be just the man to help fulfil Langley’s WSL dream.