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 Part 20 - Appeared in the Mag Apr 2003

The worsening political situation in the Middle East has put paid to any hopes that a couple of Newcastle youngsters had of representing their country, with news of the postponement of the World U20 Championships.

Originally scheduled for the United Arab Emirates in late March, FIFA took the decision to call off the event and at the time of writing had ruled out staging it in an alternative “safer” country.

That means that Newcastle’s Republic of Ireland defender Stephen Brennan is denied the chance to link up with his international colleagues, while Michael Chopra would have expected to be included in the England squad, which hadn’t been named when the postponement was announced.

However for both players this allows them to be available for domestic duty, and with a raft of rescheduled reserve matches coming up, there’s plenty to keep them occupied.

Additionally for Chopra there’s the chance that he may just squeeze into the England U21 squad as international football returns to St.James’ Park when Turkey are the visitors on Tuesday April 1st for an 8pm kickoff (tickets on sale from the club now, £10 & £5 concessions.)

Chopra and Brennan have both featured in recent weeks for what is becoming an increasingly home-grown reserve side, now that the likes of Bassedas, Marcelino and Gavilan have been removed. And with the side moving from the miserable and seemingly jinxed Gateshead Stadium back across the Tyne to the rebuilt Kingston Park, a distinct improvement in performances and results has been noted.

Rearranged fixtures meant a run of three consecutive home games in early March, and after a fine goal from Brennan’s Irish compatriot Joe Kendrick saw off Everton, West Brom were thumped 5-1 by a team that finished up being totally composed of Academy players, after second half substitutions saw Dabizas, Acuna and LuaLua withdrawn.

It was the livewire Congo-born striker who led the way with an opening goal and a performance to haunt the Baggies, but once substitutions allowed Michael Chopra to take up his favoured striking position rather than a midfield role, he started to show flashes of his old self and bagged two goals with typical finishes.

After a few quiet months for the lad, this was a welcome return to form and combined with a late appearance from the bench in Leverkusen, a timely reminder that he’s ready for his senior chance, when it comes.

Next up at Kingston Park were Liverpool, European callups resulting in both sides fielded inexperienced lineups, and on a wet and windy night fighting out a 1-1 draw.

After a recent debut for Ross Gardner, it was the turn of fellow midfielder James Beaumont to step up in this game, joined in the second half by another Academy colleague and reserve new boy, defender Martin Brittain.

Andy Ferrell, another graduate this season from the U19s notched a first reserve goal on his 7th start at this level, to go along with the impressive 12 he’s notched from midfield this season in Academy games.

However, while that trio and others such as Danny Howe, Kris Gate and Chris Moore will hope to feature in upcoming reserve league and Northumberland Senior Cup games, as far as the U19 side goes they’ve missed the boat.

After having tussling in recent weeks for top spot in their league with Blackburn Rovers, their hopes of playoff qualification are now almost extinguished following a run of three consecutive losses.

A 3-1 defeat at Manchester City was followed by a demoralising 4-1 reverse at Whitley Bay’s Hillheads ground, when the only bright spot was a second half Lewis Guy effort. And it was at the same venue that an improved performance from Newcastle but a single goal loss to Leeds made hopes of advancement increasingly forlorn.

In a closely-fought game that attracted a crowd of 100 despite being played in midweek, Newcastle were unable to come back after falling behind in the first half, finding the visiting goalkeeper Carson in sparkling form.

That result meant that Leeds became the first side this season to do the double over us at this level – a pleasant return to Tyneside for the ex-toon pair Pop Robson and Jeff Clarke, coach and physio respectively for the Yorkshire club.

And although there are six games left for the Magpies and we have a game in hand on Rovers, they must now rely on the Ewood youngsters tripping up as they lie nine points ahead of us.

Although the remaining games are now almost academic, the U19s end their campaign with three interesting away fixtures.  Friday 4th April sees us travel down to Hurworth to face Middlesbrough before another local encounter on Tuesday 8th (2pm) when we make our first visit to the new mackem “Academy of Light”. The curtain on the season then comes down on Saturday 19th when we make what is expected to be the final visit by a toon team to Derby County’s Baseball Ground, to be demolished in the close season.

By contrast the U17s are confirmed as being involved in their end of season playoffs, qualifying despite some indifferent form due to the extra rounds of playoff games played at this level and the larger number of teams included.

Fresh from a morale-boosting 2-0 victory over their mackem counterparts, a crazy 6-6 home draw with Everton was then followed  by a 0-4 reverse away to Ipswich in deepest Suffolk to end the scheduled season.

The first set of playoff games were then confirmed as home matches against Reading (22nd March) and Watford (5th April), then a daunting trip to Manchester City, who swept us aside 3-0 at home in February and look unstoppable at present as they chase a league and FA Youth Cup double and are yet to be beaten this season.

Finally, just time to say congratulations to Stephen Taylor, who captained the England U17 side to victory in a four team tournament last week and even found time to get upfield and notch two goals.

A 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic at Chester was followed by a 5-0 success over Slovakia at the Rebook Stadium where his double came, and finally a third successive clean sheet formed the foundation for a 2-0 defeat of Scotland at Tranmere’s Prenton Park to confirm England’s place in the U17 Championships scheduled to go ahead in Portugal next May. Hopefully Saddam won’t stop that one.


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