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 If the Kids are United
 Part 6 - Appeared in the Mag, April 2002

While the club’s u17 side are now involved in the National playoffs, for their u19 counterparts, the season is almost over. As was mentioned in the last issue, Kenny Wharton’s boys faced an almost impossible task to qualify by getting past leaders Nottingham Forest, and so it proved.

A 3-3 draw with Forest on the banks of the Trent was a major blow, and despite bouncing back with a 4-2 victory at Sheffield Wednesday, any lingering hopes were extinguished by a 5-1 reverse away at Liverpool a few hours before our senior side faced Arsenal in the FA Cup at St.James’.

Once it was confirmed that no playoff games would extend their season, the retained list was announced and Stephen Pringle, Jon Brain, Chris Meredith, Kevin Dixon, Robert Kent, Johnny Mann and Carl Heiniger along with u17 player Damon Robson were released, to join the ranks of youngsters looking to restart their careers at a new club.

None of the lads had secured definite deals at the time of writing, but all had been approached by prospective new employers. Carl Heiniger found himself at Villa Park in the Bradford City reserve side on a trial, while both Chris Meredith and Damon Robson received invitations from Bristol City. Robson was also said to be attracting the attention of both our local rivals from Teesside and Wearside.

Goalkeeper Jon Brain, is heading back to former club Carlisle United on trial, where ex-toon junior keeper Peter Keen is still on the books. Two of his occasional reserve colleagues have also agreed to make the journey down the A69, with Ryan McGuffie and Mark Boyd also now available. Like Brain, Boyd was formerly with Carlisle before the call came from Tyneside.

The final few u19 games have seen an influx of players from the u17’s, and young strikers Lewis Guy and Calvin Zola-Makongo marked their introduction at a higher level with goals in their first starts.

However, the season is very much alive for the u17’s, and they began their playoff campaign with a convincing 4-0 victory in London against Fulham. The result was never in doubt after two strikes from Zola-Makongo in the opening quarter hour, a second half spot kick from Neale McDermott and Lewis Guy’s 23rd goal of the season at this level sealing the win.

Home games against Wimbledon and Crewe (already beaten 6-0 on Tyneside in 
the league) now follow, before the competition alters to a straight knockout basis, culminating in a two-legged final.

In between the sticks at Fulham was Adam Collin, who while being the regular keeper for the u17’s has been moonlighting with the reserve side in recent weeks. 

With Jon Karelse being sidelined through injury and illness for much of the season, and Robson understandably reluctant to risk Steve Harper on a regular basis, an opportunity arose for one of the Academy keepers to take a step up.

Following a brief appearance from Carl Bell, the aforementioned Brain then had a short run before Colin was handed the gloves when Middlesbrough reserves came to Tyneside, having been sidelined with a broken arm.

Unfortunately for him the whole Newcastle side had a stinker, as the smoggies cruised to a 4-1 victory on a damp night at Kingston Park. A slight improvement saw the points shared with Sheffield Wednesday the following week, but the turning point then looks to have come for the second string with a morale-boosting 8-0 win in a friendly at Bishop Auckland.

After that success, Tommy Craig kept faith with Collin and he’s played in our run of three consecutive home games, bringing maximum points and a rise to the top of the table. An entertaining 5-2 win over Manchester United saw Collin & Co beamed live into the homes of MUTV viewers, while the 2-1 defeat of Bolton saw him seconds away from a clean sheet before a Trotter shot home a consolation goal from a corner with Collin unsighted.

However, he had the easiest night of his fledgling reserve career so far in the following game, as a very disappointing Manchester City side barely mustered a shot on target all night, and Collin’s chief contribution was to make a couple of well-timed jumps to claim incoming crosses.

Collin will hope to keep his place in the reserves as they try and hang on to top spot, along with fellow Academy graduates Orr and Chopra. While England striker Chopra’s name is well-known (although he’s recently featured in a right wing role for the reserves) that of Bradley Orr is less familiar.

The powerfully-built Liverpudlian midfielder can also point to an encouraging display in the Bishop Auckland friendly, in which he grabbed a goal and showed some good creative touches.

He’s now a regular substitute for the reserves and in his only start to date wasn’t found wanting on a tricky night at the Stadium of Plight, when in an unfamiliar wing role, he supplied a beauty of a cross for Cort to head home as well as putting in some crunching tackles.

After never always seeing eye-to-eye with the coaching staff at the Academy in the past, it’s good to see that Bradley has got his act together and is starting to show more of his quality alongside established professionals.

Finally, in response to a few requests, this time out we’ll round up the young striking talent at the club:

Michael Chopra: now considered a reserve team player, a return of 30 goals in 21 u19 starts shows that Academy league football is no longer a challenge for him. Two goals early in his reserve career may have raised hopes prematurely that he would blaze straight through to the first team, but after a dip in form he’s shown signs of being more involved in the last few games. Big things will be expected next season though. Contracted to United until 2003.

Richard Offiong: after looking at one stage as if he was ahead of Chops in the race to a reserve spot, Offy has slipped out of the limelight in recent months as he’s struggled for form. Now that Colin McMenamin has been declared surplus to requirements he should have the chance to make up ground again, but hasn’t really done enough to warrant a reserve place. Contracted to United until 2005.

Calvin Zola-Makongo: along with LuaLua the second Congo-born striker at United. Having hit 12 goals in 13 u17 games, the imposing figure of Zola found himself promoted to the u19’s and was soon back on the goal trail at Barnsley. If he’s reminiscent of anyone it’s Ameobi with the same languid style, along with a hint of the trickery of LuaLua. Also like Shola it’s difficult to judge how good he is as his physical size allows him to almost bully more diminutive opponents. Contracted to United until 2004.

Lewis Guy: Has had a good season in the u17’s, with 23 goals in 24 games plus one for the u19’s. Has already had a number of Premiership scouts monitoring his progress - high hopes that he’ll continue to develop and maintain his scoring touch.

Guy Bates: Due to the form of Lewis Guy, the more rugged Bates has had to share a forward spot with Zola-Makongo, but still weighed in with 4 goals.

Marc Walton: a comparative newcomer and still to start his first game for the u17’s, athough he’s grabbed two goals when coming on as a sub. Will hope to establish himself next season.


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Page last updated 24 June, 2009