Caked in mud and sweat, his shirt long since given away, Alan Shearer was proof in flesh and aching muscle how desperately hard Newcastle had been pushed.
The Newcastle captain blew hard and said that if anyone doubted that the romance of the FA Cup had passed away they should have been at London Road. From a pitch which bore a passing resemblance to the Cambridgeshire Fens – they even had to paint in the centre-spot before kick-off – to Peterborough's extraordinary fightback which was reversed in the final seven minutes, this was the purists' FA Cup tie.
"We have seen Manchester United pull out of the FA Cup a couple of years ago and we have seen the empty stands at Middlesbrough on Saturday," said Shearer. "But this is why it is still the best competition in the world; because we were pushed to the limit by a Second Division side."
By the time the fifth round begins, half the Premiership will have been eliminated and Shearer, a loser in two finals and one semi-final in a black-and-white shirt, was asked if this was Newcastle's year. "I don't know, but it is special to the people in the North-East and I think they would almost prefer to win the FA Cup than the Premiership."
It was Shearer's penalty that ultimately stopped a resurgence from Peterborough which looked as if might end those hopes before January was out. It was not so much handball, more the ball falling on to Leon McKenzie's arm seven minutes from time. Not only did Shearer hammer home the spot-kick for his 14th goal of the season, Aaron Hughes's low header a minute later gave the scoreline a veneer the football did not merit.
Both the Newcastle manager Bobby Robson and his counterpart Barry Fry thought Peterborough deserved a replay. These days the club knows as Posh are a down-at-heel gentry in threadbare tweeds and Fry calculated a draw might have earned the club a further £700,000. As it is, the Peterborough manager can now pay his players' wages until the end of the season.
When Andy O'Brien spun with the ruthlessness of a striker to meet Sylvain Distin's knock-down in the 14th minute, there seemed no indication of what was to come. However, with Robson's full-backs pushing well up, the two centre-backs were both horribly vulnerable and McKenzie spurned three clear chances.
It was thus something of a surprise when Jamie McClen extended Newcastle's lead a minute before the interval as a ricochet from Simon Rea's shins deflected directly into his path. The match appeared over; as it would have been had Neale Barry awarded a penalty for a blatant trip on Olivier Bernard a minute into the second half.
Fry had boasted that London Road's floodlights, which he joked had the strength of four candles, would serve his team well and, when O'Brien met Marc Joseph's out-swinging cross with the power and placement of Shearer at his peak, he seemed to be proved right.
"Andy said: 'I suppose it will be on Match of the Day tonight'," laughed Shearer. "I told him it will be on television for the next 40 years."
So too will David Farrell's equaliser. As a Newcastle attack foundered, Andy Clarke fed Farrell, who launched himself down the right wing, cut inside and launched a shot from 20 yards past Shay Given. The momentum of the match was running inexorably Peterborough's way and when Farrell sent Neale Fenn clear on goal, humiliation beckoned for the 4,000 Geordie fans. Instead, Given saved superbly and Newcastle survived and prospered.
"There is no better duo than Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer to win the FA Cup," a drained Fry added. "They are both a credit to the game but they are lucky bastards to have come away from here with a win."
Goals: O'Brien (14) 0-1; McClen (44) 0-2; O'Brien og (49) 1-2; Farrell (68) 2-2; Shearer pen (83) 2-3; Hughes (84) 2-4.
Peterborough United (4-4-2): Tyler; Joseph, Rea (Hooper, 87), Edwards, Williams; Bullard, Farrell, Forsyth (Oldfield, 87), Clarke; McKenzie, Fenn (Forinton, 87). Substitutes not used: Cullen, Connor (gk).
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Hughes, O'Brien, Distin, Elliott; Solano, McClen (Kerr, 90), Acuña, Bernard (Quinn, 79); Bellamy, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Griffin, Ameobi, Harper (gk).
Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).
Bookings: Peterborough: Edwards, Rea. Newcastle: Acuña.
Man of the match: Farrell.
Attendance: 13,841.Reuse content