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 If the Kids are United
 Part 27- Appeared in the Mag, January 2004 


While the seniors play on through the festive season (hopefully), Newcastle's Academy U19 side and the two reserve outfits get the chance to take stock before fixtures resume in January.

High time then a quick overview of developments to date, beginning with Brian Eastick's junior squad. While the recent 2-1 away success at Portsmouth in the FA Youth Cup was most welcome, that game in many ways encapsulated the season so far for the u19s.

For much of the game at Fratton Park, United were second best to Pompey - a fact conceded by Eastick afterwards - and won the game without every really playing well for more than brief patches.                            

And while recent away successes in the league at Derby and Barnsley were deserved, it's as well to remember that both former Premiership sides are now living in reduced circumstances and in the case of the Rams, were weakened on the day by a number of first team call-ups - a situation hardly likely to affect the toon youngsters.

Unfortunately our frailties have been exposed when facing higher quality opposition, notably Sheffield United, who beat us home and away after our defence proved incapable of keeping the razor-sharp Blades at bay for the full ninety minutes.

Against Nottingham Forest it was a similar story, as we took an early lead but once again found ourselves overhauled once the opposition redoubled their efforts. At times it's easy to see the frustration from forward players when their good work is undone by failings of those behind them.

Those who can look back with a measure of satisfaction on the season so far include striker Guy Bates, who has notched 11 goals in 13 games including penalties. And also weighing in with his share of goals has been South-African born Matty Pattison, who makes up for what he may lack in stamina with competitive spirit. So far hes contributed 6 to our total, making him second only to Bates in the scoring charts.                  

In central defence, Chris Farman has also impressed with some mature performances belying his 16 years and alongside him there have been some encouraging displays from another 16 year-old, David Edgar, who will be once again available when the season resumes, after his adventures with Canada in the World u20 championships.

Meanwhile, Phil Cave has emerged as our first home-grown contender for the perennially-problematic left back spot since Robbie Elliott. All three players have deservedly appeared in reserve matches this season, most notably Cave who has been involved in both the Pontins and Premiership second- string sides, impressing coach Tommy Craig. If Cave is lacking in one thing it's physical presence, but hopefully hell continue to develop physically as well as improving his football education.

Going back to the World u20 championships for a moment, England may have endured a dispiriting time in their group games before being eliminated without scoring a goal, but for one of our representatives the trip to Dubai has been swiftly followed by a further change of scenery, albeit slightly closer to home.

A few weeks short of his 18th birthday, central defender Steven Taylor has taken the next step up in his much-anticipated career, joining
Nationwide Division Two basement club Wycombe Wanderers on loan for a month.

With no reserve team games scheduled until 2004, Taylor's move to Adams Park allows him to gain some useful league experience, rather than while away the next few weeks at the training ground. 

The move came at the request of the recently-installed Wanderers boss Tony Adams, who was recently named by the young Newcastle and England prospect as a major role, whose on-field achievements Taylor seeks to emulate.

Greenwich-born Stephen made his senior debut at Meadow Lane against the Magpies of Notts County, playing the full 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw. And despite not being able to make his league bow with a clean sheet, Taylor certainly impressed the watching Chairboys internet reporter, who labelled him "a dominating presence" in central defence.

Before moving on temporarily to Wycombe, Taylor had appeared for both our reserve league sides something by no means unique to him, with a large crossover of players between both Pontins and Premier Reserve squads, plus a healthy sprinkling of Academy youngsters.

At the halfway stage, its at least gratifying that our Pontins League side recovered from a humiliating opening to the season, when they failed to register a win in four attempts. Four straight wins followed that, before a narrow 4-3 loss at York ended 2003s fixtures.

To be honest its difficult to see the benefit of fielding the two sides so far, with no consistency between the teams picked, meaning we fielded over 20m quids worth of talent at Doncaster Rovers, with the likes of Robert and Solano featuring and then in the next game took a sixteen man squad to Boston entirely made up of players who had come through or still with our academy U19 side.

It remains to be seen exactly what will happen to the Pontins side next season, not only because of its apparent unpopularity with certain first team squad players, but also in the wake of a rumoured slimming down of the number of players being attached to the Academy the emphasis apparently moving from quantity to quality.

Also, the benefit of playing competitive fixtures to enhance or maintain fitness would appear to be at least partially negated by the risk of seeing an expensive squad member injured by an over-exuberant youth trainee from Lincoln, Scunthorpe or wherever. The biggest irony is though that weve been facing the stiffs of Darlington and Grimsby etc. on a playing surface at Whitley Park thats infinitely superior to that at Kingston Park, where LuaLua, Cort and Viana have tried to press their claims for a first team recall on a pudding of a pitch that visiting teams are now regularly complaining about.

Weve said it before and will keep on saying it there seems little point in providing expensive new training facilities for both our first team and youth set-ups, if they play their competitive games in unsuitable conditions and inappropriate venues.

Hopefully 2004 will at last see a rethink of reserve venues and an avoidance of the daft situation that saw both second strings playing matches in different competitions at exactly the same time.

For the Academy as well there remain issues related to the Little Benton facility, most notably the lack of cover round the pitches used for competitive games which leaves them exposed to the elements a situation the mackems got round by placing their pitches in an amphitheatre-like setting.

In general though its difficult at present to muster a massive amount of enthusiasm for whats been seen below first team level this season hopefully the second half of the season will alter that, with a run in the FA Youth Cup long overdue.

Biffa

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Page last updated 24 June, 2009