With Uniteds two main academy sides reaching the halfway point in their respective league seasons, high time for a quick review of the action so far.
Beginning with the under 17 side, under the stewardship of Academy Director Alan Irvine, it was a case of unlucky thirteen when the youngsters travelled down to Leeds while the seniors were failing at
Fulham. Having blasted their way to the top of the league from the off, their unbeaten record of ten wins and two draws from the start of the season was shattered by an added-time winner for the young whites to seal a 2-1 victory.
Averaging over four goals a game in their unbeaten run, much attention has been focused on 18-goal Lewis Guy, who hit a pair on opening day at home to Watford, only to see debutant strike partner Calvin Zola-Makongo go one better in a one-sided 5-0 win.
However Guy was soon overtaking Zola in the scoring charts, notching four in a 7-0 demolition of Wrexham on a sunny September Saturday in Wales.A seventeen-minute treble then followed as Barnsley were edged out in an exciting 4-3 encounter on Tyneside, before a blank Saturday for Lewis the following week when the defenders and midfielders took their turn in front of goal to topple Sheffield Wednesday, also 4-3.
However, an opening goal against the mackems down at Whitburn in his next game paved the way for a 2-0 win over the forces of darkness, before Coventry came to toon on the morning of the senior home game against Aston Villa.
The Sky Blues, coached by old stager Steve Ogrizovic had the audacity to go 1-0 ahead and still led after half an hour, but Lake-District-born Guy then reeled off a nine minute hat trick and hit two more for good measure. Final score: Lewis Guy 5 Coventry 1.This good form in front of goal saw Lewis retain his place in the England U17 side along with hard-working United midfielders Neale McDermott and Ross Gardner, and his first international strike followed against Spain at Ashton Gate McDermott joining him on the scoresheet in a 3-1 victory.
Away from the goal-scoring glamour, many other toon youngsters have also impressed this season so far at U17 level, with deserved international recognition for some good performers. Impressing on the left flank has been Republic of Ireland international Alan OBrien, who joined the club from Dublin in the summer, and has produced some devastating displays of old-fashioned wing play to torment defenders, most notably in the Coventry hammering.
Elsewhere, England recognised the talent of midfielder Ben Webster with call
ups to the Victory Shield squad, while Monkseaton High School celebrated an England captaincy when Steven Taylor led the U16 side out at both Rushden and Wigan and inspired them to 3-0 and 4-3 wins over Northern Ireland and Spain respectively.
Defender Taylor is well-used to playing for the U17 side, having been first drafted in when only 14, instantly showing a calm assurance in the centre of defence that belied his age. His physical size means that when things get a little tasty, hes also a vital part of the backline, alongside another local lad Chris Carr. Speaking of Carr, hes planning for the future as a professional footballer, having recently launched his own website!
Also worthy of mention was the early-season form of goalkeeper Adam Collin, who posted five clean sheets from the first seven games of the season before unfortunately breaking his arm in a training accident.
The U17s remain at the head of the table, four points ahead of the mackems and have league fixtures scheduled until March, whereupon the end-of-season playoffs begin. Last season saw a run through to the final, only for Ipswich to derail our hopes with a 5-0 victory in the first leg at Portman Road. Some pride was restored when United claimed the second leg 2-0 in front of a magnificent St.James attendance of over 10,000 proof that the interest in this level of football in the area is there. However before then, the bulk of the side will represent the club in the FA Youth Club, a competition that we have won in the past, when such luminaries as David Craig (1962) and Gazza (1985) were serving their apprenticeships. Our recent record in the cup is patchy to say the least, and hopes are high of a decent run this year. First up for the U18 side who represent us is a trip to Norwich in early December, not the easiest of ties.
Moving on to the Under 19 side coached by Kenny Wharton, and again the season has been an encouraging one so far, positive results being punctuated by International callups but balanced by the odd freak injury.
After their 57 goal haul had grabbed the headlines for the U17s last time out (and earned them both pro contracts) Michael Chopra and Richard Offiong are still to hit top form as a combo this season as they move up to a higher level.
Of course, a full season in this side for both players would be classified as something of a failure, given that their onward progress has already seen them make scoring reserve team debuts and wear the shirt of England. With Offiong suffering from a couple of nagging injuries this season, hes still to get back in the goalscoring groove consistently, but his strike partner Chopra is very much in the thick of things for club and country.
After being picked to represent England U19s (the 4th age group in which hes been honoured), Michael struck his first goal at this level in his third start, when Georgia were beaten 4-1 at Yorks Bootham Crescent ground in a European Championship qualifier. For good measure Chopra, playing in an unfamiliar wide right role also burst into the penalty area only to be felled by rash challenges on two occasions, penalties being given and converted by Crewes Dean Ashton for both efforts.
Its not only the England representatives though that have been catching the eye, with rave notices coming out of Southern Ireland in recent weeks as midfielder Stephen Brennan played a key role in the Republics campaign for the U19 European Championships. Qualification for the next stage of the competition was confirmed by victories over Croatia, Austria and Latvia and Eires young player of the year for last year was praised for his performances throughout.
Back to the domestic campaign, and the not-inconsiderable haul of five goals from midfield represents a reasonable return for Tommy English, while Chris Moore has featured less in the scoring charts but posted some grafting
displays. A quick check at the U19 lineups for this season shows that of the starting side on the opening day, only four players remained in the team that lined up at Leeds in mid-November, with the last ever-present records having gone some weeks earlier.
As previously mentioned, Richard Offiong has suffered from hamstring problems, while goalkeeper Jon Brain is currently sidelined with a dislocated finger. However, those problems pale into insignificance with the freak double leg break suffered by United defenders in the same game.
Both central defender Ryan Hogg and full back Lee Norton ended up in hospital after our home game with Sheffield Wednesday in October, injured in separate challenges, although no blame was attached to the opposition for either. Both breaks were uncomplicated and required only the addition of a plaster cast, but the season is over for the unlucky duo.
Given that sort of blow, the U19 lads have done well to maintain their early season form through most of the games, and at present are hard on the heels of leaders Nottingham Forest, the only side to leave Tyneside with three points this season so far.
In a reduced end of season playoff competition at this level, the under 19s have fixtures scheduled right through to April, and along with their younger colleagues will be desperate to complete a win double over the mackems in their home games on the morning of the Blackburn home game (15th December). Venue is still tbc, but details will be posted on NUFC.com, along with all scores and stats for the whole season. If you can stay out of the pub, come along and cheer on the next generations of Newcastle United.
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