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 If the Kids are United
 Part 29- Appeared in the Mag, March 2004 

We’ll start with some good news: A Matty Pattison effort gave us a narrow 1-0 victory over our Wearside rivals in the recent U19 clash, as we avenged a single goal loss down the road earlier in the season. On the balance of play we deserved the success, with striker Marc Walton and midfielder Danny Howe both coming close to making it a more resounding victory after Pattison’s shot on the half hour had put us in front.

However, our failure to grab a killer second goal kept the game alive, especially after the referee invented over five minutes of additional time, during which the mackems threatened an equaliser. We held out though to claim the three points and bounce back from the bruising 5-3 reverse suffered the previous week down at Nottingham Forest.

That Tyne-Wear derby victory was followed by a blank weekend for the U19 side, as wintry weather conditions in South Yorkshire wiped out our scheduled game at Barnsley and delayed our attempt at registering a third league win of the season over the youngsters from the Nationwide side (the randomness of fixtures being another of the foibles of football at this level.) That game at Oakwell Academy is now scheduled for Friday April 16th, which will bring down the curtain on a season of few high spots for the youngsters.

In many ways our last league game was a microcosm of our season, with Huddersfield Town, another Nationwide side who we’d beaten earlier in the season on our travels, coming to Tyneside and after going two goals behind, recovering to level and threaten a late winner.

And although Newcastle twice took the lead and had a third goal chalked off, the Terriers could claim the same and looked more like getting a winner in the final minutes.

An opening half was as poor as any seen in this campaign and passed off almost without incident, save for a “goal” by the visitors being rightly disallowed for offside. No less than four second-half goals though provided some entertainment to a small crowd who had gathered at the Little Benton site on a blank Saturday for the first team.

United took the lead only five minutes after the restart, when striker Carl Finnigan disrupted a Huddersfield attack on the edge of his own box and sped away down the right, swapping passes with Marc Walton as they passed into the visitor's half.

Finnigan then continued his box-to-box run with a fine cross into the area that Matty Pattison met with a first time header down and into the net for his ninth academy goal of the season.

After a short spell of pressure, Huddersfield drew level just before the hour when Wallis's short corner from the right was crossed by Hand, helped on by McAliskey and converted from close range by Joe Shaw. Back we came though to reclaim the lead when Finnigan's shot from outside the area was deflected for a corner and when Daryl Smylie sent the flag kick over, Finnigan's flicked header at the near post beat the 'keeper.

And with just six minutes remaining, it almost became a memorable day for Newcastle’s on-trial midfielder O'Brien, as he side-footed the ball into an empty net after Pattison's lob had beaten the onrushing 'keeper and dropped down off the crossbar. However the celebrations were cut short by an offside flag.

Barely 90 seconds later though it was 2-2 as a left foot special from Huddersfield captain John McCombe flew past Ben Smith and into the top corner of the Newcastle goal. The visitors then pressed for a winner but the contest ended all square – probably a fair result overall.

The Huddersfield game saw a debut for Paul O'Brien - no relation to Andy or Alan - a midfielder just released by Birmingham City academy and playing for us on a trial basis after he approached his former coach Brian Eastick, now of course at Newcastle.

O’Brien was a pupil at Arrow Vale School in Redditch and in 2002 captained the school to national success, lifting the English School’s FA Under 16 Schoolsnet Cup by beating local rivals Kingshurst City Technology College 2-1.

Arrow Vale School has strong links with Steve Bruce’s club and a number of O’Brien’s classmates have spent time at St.Andrew’s. Their most famous recent former pupil though was Manchester United’s England U20 international Jimmy Davis, who unfortunately lost his life in a car crash in 2003 when on his way to play for Watford as part of a loan spell.

Also linking up with Newcastle on a trial basis in recent days have been two other players – defender Liam Norval and a German midfielder called Tillman. Little is known of the latter, except that he’s been playing with SV Hamburg, while the former is a Cardiff-born Welsh youth international currently with West Ham.

Whether any of the on-trial trio will be kept on remains to be seen, but an announcement is expected very soon confirming the identities of those current Newcastle youngsters who are to be released by the club, with effect from the end of the current season.

There has already been some outward activity involving a number of academy players, with a number popping up elsewhere on trials with other clubs. Midfielder Ben Jackson was spotted turning out for Doncaster Rovers, former Glasgow Rangers youngster Steven Blair has been linked with local Unibond side Blyth Spartans and central defender Chris Carr travelled to London for a try out with resurgent Division Two side Queens Park Rangers.

Other graduates from the United Academy have been gaining playing experience in the Nationwide Leagues in recent weeks, with Division Three outfit York City taking forgotten striker Richard Offiong down to Bootham Crescent to aid their bid to avoid relegation and, along with Carlisle, also eyeing reserve midfielder Andy Ferrell.

The arrival of Michael Bridges to the senior squad at St.James’ Park saw the temporary departure of Michael Chopra out on loan again, this time to Nottingham Forest. However, his arrival at the City Ground coincided with the departure of ‘boss Paul Hart and after failing to score in three starts and two substitute outings, new Forest manager Joe Kinnear opted not to retain Chops.

And after spending time at Wycombe and Burnley respectively, defender Steven Taylor and midfielder Bradley Orr suddenly found themselves thrust into the first-team picture at St.James’ Park, when injuries and suspensions saw Sir Bobby Robson turn to a quartet of unproven reserve players to augment his squads for UEFA Cup ties against the Norwegian side Valerenga.

Taylor was joined by striker Lewis Guy for the first leg in Oslo, with the defender being selected as a substitute but not called into action. And Sir Bobby chose Orr, Taylor and Martin Brittain for his bench in the second game on Tyneside a week later, with right-sided midfielder Brittain having the distinction of making his debut in senior football as a 76th minute replacement for Michael Bridges.

However, while he didn’t let anyone down with his contribution as we advanced to the next round, with a week the 19 year-old had been reminded of the fickle nature of football. After his live TV debut the previous Thursday, the following Monday saw him unable to prevent our Premiership reserve side slipping to a 3-2 defeat to struggling Bolton at Whitley Park when appearing as a second half substitute.

And things were to get even worse forty eight hours later, when Brittain was again asked to come off the bench to rescue an ailing United reserve display, this time in the Northumberland Senior Cup away at Bedlington.

With the Terriers 2-0 up at the break, Brittain had barely touched the ball before ex-Newcastle junior John Milner hit the target for the home side to confirm their superiority on the night. Then after trying in vain to kick-start a United revival, he found himself back in his own penalty area in the closing stages and unable to prevent his registering an own goal when inadvertently diverting a cross past the United ‘keeper.

The game finished 4-0 and meant that we relinquished our grip on the trophy, Bedlington qualifying for the final against either Blyth or West Allotment Celtic. And in a game when nobody in a black and white shirt enhanced their reputation, we ended up with only ten men on the field, following an injury to Carl Finnigan that saw him stretchered off, after we’d used our allotted three replacements.

A bad night then for a second-string side entirely composed of current and former Academy players and like many of the U19 performances this season, a display which calls into question the quality of the home-grown youngsters we’re presently developing.

Our policy may well be one of “if they’re good enough they’re old enough”, but on the evidence of this season, too many of our promising youngsters are showing too few signs of advancement. Ultimately, that has to raise questions about both our selection and recruitment policy and the quality of coaching on offer.


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Page last updated 24 June, 2009