The tension will be palpable across Tyneside on Tuesday as Newcastle United embark on 90 minutes of football that could end with them reaching a first cup final this century.
Eddie Howe's side hold a narrow 1-0 advantage going into the League Cup semi-final second leg at St James' Park, courtesy of Joelinton's winner at St Mary's Stadium.
Newcastle have only appeared in the League Cup final once before, when they lost to Manchester City at Wembley Stadium in 1976. This season's semi-final charge is only the second time the club has even made the last four.
In 1998 and 1999 they were back at the old Wembley for dispiriting successive FA Cup final defeats, against Arsenal and then Manchester United.
Cup runs where put firmly on the back-burner under previous owner Mike Ashley, whose controversial reign saw the club relegated from the Premier League twice and never get beyond the quarter-finals of any knockout competition.
But the arrival of a Saudi Arabian-led consortium in October 2021 – and the appointment of Howe as manager soon after – had the almost immediate effect of galvanising a club that had long accepted top-flight survival as the sole barometer of success.
Newcastle were on the up at last. The previous season's surge from relegation battle to mid-table security was built on a mix of successful new signings – such as Kieran Tripper, Dan Burn and Bruno Guimaraes – gelling alongside old squad members – like Fabian Schar, Jonjo Shelvey and Joelinton – whose careers were revitalised under Howe.
More arrivals followed in the summer with the likes of goalkeeper Nick Pope and centre-half Sven Botman strengthening the team again – but even the most optimistic of Newcastle fans could not have expected what came next.
Southampton 0 Newcastle 1: Player ratings
A year on from the threat of relegation, the Mapgies sit third in the league – having lost one game all season, with the meanest defence in the top-flight – and are one victory away from their first final at a now rebuilt Wembley.
Another of the squad's old school has seen his form hit new highs under the guidance of Howe. Before this season, the most goals Paraguayan attacker Miguel Almiron had managed in a season was eight – he has nine already, although the last of those came against Leicester City on December 26.
And the new signings keep coming. On Sunday, Anthony Gordon completed his £45 million move from Everton, with the 21-year-old winger giving Newcastle a fresh attacking option.
Gordon, who left the struggling Merseysiders under a cloud after missing training trying to force through a move to Tyneside, will be in the stands watching his new teammates attempt to overcome Southampton.
“Anthony has the passion that our fans will feed off but he will have to earn that support,” said Howe on Monday. "He’s a young player with huge potential to have a big impact on our season. He’s very quick, very dynamic and he’s versatile. He can give us something different.
“But the best is yet to come from him; we’re going to have to support and guide Anthony through his move. Certainly I was very impressed by the person I met yesterday. He handled himself really well.”
Heading for the St James' park exit, meanwhile, is midfielder Shelvey, who was having a medical with Nottingham Forest on Monday potentially bringing an end to his seven-year spell in the North East. He will become the second Newcastle player to move to the City Ground this month after striker Chris Wood.
One player who will definitely not be leaving is Allan Saint-Maximin, according to Howe, despite the French attacker struggling for game time this season and recently being linked with a move to Italian side AC Milan.
When asked whether Saint-Maximin could also be on his way out, Howe insisted: “Absolutely not. He is here to stay, and is an integral part of my team.”
But while there could also be potential loan moves for midfielders Conor Gallagher and Sander Berge – at Chelsea and Sheffield United, respectively – ahead of Tuesday's transfer deadline, Howe's focus remains very much on the League Cup.
“I’ve drilled it into the players that this tie is by no means over,” he said, as Newcastle aim to move a step closer to their first domestic silverware since the 1955 FA Cup.
“It’s very much in the balance. We’re going to need a top performance. It’s going to be difficult. I don’t think it will make or break our season but it’s a potentially season-defining game.”