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 If the Kids are United
 Part 16 - Appeared in the Mag, Dec 2002

Cup football in various different guises has taken centre stage in recent weeks, but with mixed results for Newcastle's younger players.

The most obvious disappointment saw our U18 side once again crash out of the FA Youth Cup at the first time of asking, albeit to Manchester United rather than losses to Nationwide clubs as has latterly been the case.

Our home tie with the Red Devils was originally scheduled for St.James' Park, but after being moved to an unpopular weekday lunchtime slot was eventually played at our former reserve venue of Kingston Park.

Despite the offer of free admission, only 847 spectators found their way on a chilly night to the home of the Falcons and didn't see much from the home side to warm them up.

With Sir Alex Ferguson an interested bystander alongside fellow Knight Bobby Robson, the visitors dominated the tie from the early stages and made the best of a less-than-perfect surface that the Magpies never looked comfortable with.

Manchester United took a 37th minute when a Chris Eagles free-kick beat Newcastle goalkeeper Adam Collin through a pack of players. And thirty seconds into the second half it was virtually all over when Richardson made it 2-0. Collin blocked his first shot but Kieran Richardson slammed the rebound into the roof of the net from ten yards.

It wasn't until the 78th minute when we finally tested their keeper with Carl Finnigan getting through on goal only for the 'keeper to clear. But the real killer blow was self-inflicted on 84 minutes when Steven Taylor unwittingly deflected the ball with his head past his own keeper. We did get a consolation two minutes later through a low shot from Ross Gardner from six yards after confusion in their box, but the right United went through to round four and a home tie against Sheffield Wednesday.

It's difficult to find many positives from this display for Newcastle, who never looked like repeating the form that brought three successive victories over the Old Trafford side since May with many of the same players featuring in all four games.

Among those who disappointed was striker Calvin Zola-Makongo, who had found the net four times in those earlier games but was totally off the pace when hard ground and chilly winds replaced sunshine and well-manicured pitches.

On the left wing Alan O'Brien also had a night to forget as a pacy opposition defender cancelled out his runs down the flanks, starving the forwards of a decent supply of crosses.

Things were little better in the middle of the park, where James Beaumont and Ross Gardner were too occupied trying to bale out their defensive colleagues to make an impression at the other end until the closing moments.

While this was a result best forgotten for Newcastle, hopefully it provided some sharp lessons for our youngsters and punctured one or two inflated egos.

A number of the younger players from the U17s will get another crack at the reds when they travel down to their Carrington training ground in February, along with those who weren't selected for the Youth Cup side but who have done well in league games this season.

Meanwhile for the likes of Steven Taylor and Adam Collin, their chance for revenge could have come before Christmas with a reserve away game scheduled to be played at Altrincham's Moss Lane ground.

Speaking of our second string side, a home-grown XI (plus four subs) battled their way through a Northumberland Senior Cup tie at Bedlington in November, with Michael Chopra notching all the goals in a 3-0 victory at the Welfare ground.

Unlike previous ties against the Terriers when the likes of Maric and Gavilan were included, coach Tommy Craig took the opportunity to use players who had come through the club's junior sides, and on a sticky pitch there were some whole-hearted performances.

While Chopra again stole the headlines, regular reserve watchers also saw full back pair Joe Kendrick and Stephen Brennan continue their recent good form, on a night when conditions meant that our usual passing game was forsaken for a more direct approach.

Featuring for United that night was striker Richard Offiong, who within a fortnight was to swap Northern league opposition for a slightly more exotic Southend United side, as Darlington handed Offy a Nationwide league debut.

Quakers caretaker boss Mick Tait managed to persuade Newcastle that a loan spell in Division three would be of benefit to both the player and Darlington, and at the age of 19 Offy joined current reserve players Gary Caldwell and Stuart Green in making their league debuts in Division Three.

A 2-1 home victory over the Shrimpers saw Offy show some good touches, but a week later he really announced his arrival with two goals as the infamous Stevenage Borough were beaten 4-1 at Feethams. It could have been a hat trick but for a linesman's flag, but the toon striking prospect did enough to earn praise from John Aldridge and Garth Crooks on "Match of the Day" that evening.

Offiong is at Darlington for a month's loan and it remains to be seen whether that gets extended. There's also been interest from a number of clubs in taking his England and Newcastle strike partner Michael Chopra on loan, with Oldham and Huddersfield among those clubs indicating they'd like to borrow him.

However at this stage Chops is staying at St.James' and made his second senior sub appearance when he came off the bench in the Nou Camp and almost grabbed a goal. Perhaps significantly, Carl Cort remained on the bench unused.

For Chopra his appearance in Spain marked a return to our Champions League squad, as Sir Bobby compensated for the absence of Shearer and Bellamy. The Tyneside-born youngster wasn't on hand to see those two players earn bans against Inter Milan though, as he had other business a few miles down the road with the England U20 side.

Although Chops added another two goals to his considerable haul, England were beaten 5-3 by their Italian counterparts in a game played at the Stadium of Light as St.James' was being used by another Italian side. Richard Offiong also gained another cap when used as a second half sub.

With 2003 fast approaching and the Academy sides enjoying their festive break, we'll catch up with how the U17s and U19s have been faring in the league in the next "Mag."


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