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 If the Kids are United
 Part 15 - Appeared in the Mag, Nov 2002

The senior debut of Michael Chopra against Everton in the Worthington Cup may have ended in defeat, but confirmed that our Academy production line is back in business after a two year hiatus.

And Chopra didn't look out of place despite his obvious nerves and eagerness to get into the action. Three shooting chances presented themselves, but a fairytale goal didn't follow and a penalty shootout miss meant that the night ended on a low note.

However once the inevitable disappointment passes, the youngster can reflect on a debut that gave over 34,000 fans inside St.James' Park a glimpse of the skills and commitment that he possesses.

Undoubtedly nervous and possibly too eager to impress, nonetheless Michael settled down after a few touches and didn't look out of place among seasoned professionals including Steve Watson, once a toon debutant at only sixteen.

Now that first taste of the action has been handed to him, along with a new three year contract, Chops can now focus on trying to win a regular place in the senior squad ahead of the likes of Cort, LuaLua and Ameobi.

It's not altogether a bad thing that the newspapers the following day weren't jammed with Roy of the Rovers-type headlines resulting from a fairytale winner from the lad - but his time will come and for now, young Premiership sensation Wayne Rooney is welcome to occupy the back pages.

But while Tyneside welcomed the latest graduate from their youth setup, at the same time a handful of spectators in the Potteries were seeing another youngster from our Academy continue his progress, albeit in different colours.

Sixteen year old Steven Istead made a solitary appearance for Newcastle's U17 side last season, but was one of a clutch of U16s released by the Magpies.

The South-Shields-born winger bounced back though when Hartlepool offered him a second chance, and following good reports from youth team matches and a two-goal return on his reserve debut, then-manager Chris Turner called him up to the first team.

A debut followed as a substitute for table-topping Hartlepool as they beat Bristol Rovers, with the Victoria Park fans quickly warming to him as he demonstrated his skill and pace down the right flank.

He then entered the fray again on a rain-soaked night against York City, and was as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock in what was ultimately a scoreless draw.

It was back down to earth though in midweek when Istead was in the 'Pool U18 side who took on Port Vale in an FA Youth Cup tie.

Although the Valiants eventually triumphed 4-3, at his current rate of progress the youngster can look forward to sampling the real FA Cup sooner rather than later. And even though he's a Newcastle fan, he'd no doubt dream of a Cup tie against his heroes to show them what they missed out on.

In a similar position are the players from the U19 side recently released by Newcastle, and at least one of the four lads looking for a new club has been in action in other colours recently.

Midfielder Tommy English appeared for Stoke City reserves, after having impressed a Potters scout while playing for Newcastle early in the season at Aston Villa.

Although Stoke eventually lost 4-1 at Macclesfield, new City boss Tony Pulis is expected to take an extended look at English as he bids to bring in new talent to the Britannia Stadium. Meanwhile Aston Villa have also expressed an interest in him, while goalkeeper Carl Bell is rumoured to be interesting Southampton.

Also spotted in recent weeks was another former toon midfielder being put through his paces, winger Kevin Dixon having a tryout for Wimbledon reserves as they went down by a single goal to Ipswich.

Back to the current crop of youngsters, and two hard-fought Tyne-Wear derbies in early November saw both the U17 and U19 sides fight back to claim a draw and victory respectively.

Goals from Richard Offiong and James Beaumont gave the U19s a win after a long-range effort had beaten goalkeeper Adam Collin to give the wearside visitors an early lead.

Striker Offiong levelled the contest with a well-executed chip from distance, while the fifth goal of the season from midfielder Beaumont wrapped up the points in front of a slightly disappointing crowd at Bullocksteads.

By contrast around 300 fans endured a cold and miserable morning at Whitburn to see our U17s take a point from a high-tempo encounter with the mackems.

With regular goalmouth action at both ends, United were grateful to goalkeeper Adam Bartlett for some good stops, while striker Guy Bates proved a constant handful for the home defence.

Trailing at the interval to a goal with a hint of offside about it, United silenced the locals with a classic equaliser created by the vision of Danny Howe and executed by the powerful precision shooting of Bates.

Further chances followed as Newcastle dominated the closing stages, substitute striker Marc Walton imposing himself well up front. An injury time chance fell to United's man of the match Daryll Smylie but he shot narrowly over, leaving us to claim a deserved point.

Just time to mention the latest callups for United, with Stephen Brennan away with the Republic of Ireland U20s for friendly matches against Slovakia and the Czech Republic as the countdown to the World Championships next March in the United Arab Emirates begins.

Meanwhile after a callup to the England U19 squad, Ross Gardner returns to action for the U18s as they travel to Tunisia for a friendly in mid-November. Also selected in a 16 man squad are fellow toon midfielder Neale McDermott and forward Lewis Guy. This game forms an important part of preparation for the Meridien Cup competition held in Egypt in January and gives the youngsters a chance to familiarise themselves with local conditions.

At U16 level Newcastle are again represented by striker Marc Walton, who made a fine international debut recently in the Victory Shield against Northern Ireland. Blakelaw-born Marc is the only locally-based player in the England squad for a tournament currently taking place in the region, and has also been selected for the Victory shield showdown against Scotland. This game takes place at Huddersfield on November 29th and will also be transmitted live on Sky TV.

Finally, the draw for the Third Round of the FA Youth Cup has been made and Newcastle have been handed an absolute cracker. Manchester United are the visitors to Tyneside in a tie due to be played before December 7th, and it's hoped that the game can be staged at St.James', although both Whitley Bay and Gateshead are registered as alternative venues.

Given that the age group for this competition is U18, the players who composed our U17 side last season will still be eligible for selection. In the league playoff final last season at that level we defeated the red menace twice: 3-2 at Old Trafford and 2-0 at St.James' Park, while this season our current U17 side walloped them 7-3 on their own pitch.

Please turn out and support the lads if you can for what promises to be a tremendous tie - let's just hope it doesn't need extra time and penalties to settle itů.


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Page last updated 24 June, 2009