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 If the Kids are United
 Part 26- Appeared in the Mag, December 2003 

While the academy and reserve teams continue with their busy domestic programmes, three of our younger players have swapped the autumnal conditions of the North East for the rather more temperate surroundings of the United Arab Emirates.

The United trio of Michael Chopra, Steven Taylor and David Edgar have been selected to represent their country in the World Youth Championships currently being stayed by FIFA, rescheduled from March of this year due to the political situation in Iraq.

Despite being eligible to play, Jermaine Jenas wasn’t selected by England, being deemed too important to his club to be spared for this tournament, along with the likes of Wayne Rooney. However, there were no such problems with Chopra’s availability, given his inability to break into our first team pool on a regular basis and some forgettable displays for the reserve side.

Meanwhile, defender Steven Taylor was selected to maintain his ahead-of-schedule progress through the international age groups, at 17 being one of the youngest players to be selected by any nation for this tournament. A year younger though is another defender, David Edgar of Canada. The son of former Magpies goalkeeper Eddie has made just one non-playing appearance in a club reserve side this season, but earned his place in the national team squad after showing good form for club and country since being converted from a midfielder by Newcastle.

While Edgar sat out Canada’s 2-0 loss to Brazil, Chopra and Taylor were in the England side that kicked off their campaign in dispiriting style while our first team were drawing with Wolves. A 1-0 defeat at the hands of Japan could have been averted had Chopra’s lively contribution and shooting been turned into goals, but the Newcastle man will hope for more luck against Egypt and Colombia.

Newcastle almost had a fourth representative at the finals, only for Republic of Ireland defender Stephen Brennan to recover from a shoulder problem sustained while playing for our reserves and promptly pick up a leg injury that saw him ruled out of contention.

Meanwhile back home, Brian Eastick’s Academy side seem now to have recovered from the recent loss of form, registering consecutive victories on the road at Derby and Barnsley in recent weeks, after a depressing run in which they came off second best to their counterparts from Sheffield United, Leeds and Middlesbrough.

Inclement weather conditions couldn’t prevent the young Magpies from registering a 2-0 victory over the Rams on their first visit to the new Derby County Academy base, with strikers Guy Bates and Carl Finnigan both on target for their eighth and third league goals of the campaign respectively.

And Ashington-born Bates was on target again the following Friday, as a good team performance from the first whistle paved the way for a deserved 4-2 victory at the Oakwell Academy of Barnsley, whose youth set-up remains superior to some Premiership sides, despite the decline of the first team.

However on a chilly afternoon in South Yorkshire, Bates was outshone in the goalscoring stakes by his South African team mate Matty Pattison, the peroxide-blonde midfielder opening the scoring with a shot and then grabbing our final goal with a well-directed header. In between, Bates converted with a net first-time volley after a Ben Webster cross and a Barnsley defender put the ball past his own keeper after Marc Walton’s run into the home area had caused panic.

Further goals could have been converted, with Walton making a surging run from halfway and drawing the ‘keeper, only to blaze his shot over the bar. The Blakelaw-born striker has only returned to the side in recent weeks after a three-month spell on the sidelines through injury, and is understandably still searching for form and fitness.

At the time of writing, the U19 lads have three games remaining before their seasonal break, with Nottingham Forest visiting Little Benton and a trip to high-flying Sheffield United that we’ll do well to get anything from. Before that though, there’s an even longer journey to their next game, as the FA Youth Cup comes around once more and we have to travel all the way to Fratton Park to take on Portsmouth.

Our recent record in this competition is woeful, with exits at the first time of asking to Manchester United, Norwich and Crystal Palace (after a replay) in the last three seasons. It was back in 1999/00 that we last won a game in the competition, when successes against Millwall, Wycombe and the mackems (again requiring a second game) were followed by a 2-1 reverse on Smogside, our goal that night coming from Kevin Gall, now knocking them in for Division Three newcomers Yeovil Town.

One player who featured in last season’s Third Round exit to Manchester United was our 18 year-old striker Calvin Zola (who appears to have dropped the Makongo bit if his name recently.) Our second, less-well-known import of the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently ahead of his more high-profile compatriot Lomana LuaLua in this season’s goalscoring charts, having notched six goals in his seventeen loan appearances to date for Division Two side Oldham Athletic.

Eyebrows were raised both on Tyne & Wear and in Lancashire when Latics ‘boss Iain Dowie secured Calvin’s services on what became a season-long loan after witnessing his two goals in a reserve game against Everton. However, Zola has adjusted to the demands of league football rather more quickly than many bystanders expected and appears to be well thought of at Boundary Park.

Finally, while silverware at a national level continues to elude us, we can at least pick up the odd trinket locally and for a change, our reserves managed to win something other than the Northumberland Senior Cup. It may not have been in the Nou Camp, but Bobby Robson was watching from the director's box at Millfield as we captured the Barcelona Cup against Northern League amateurs Crook Town in mid-November.

Former United defender and SKY Masters veteran, Kevin Scott, lined up for Crook Town and completed the full match as a decent crowd of 1,000 plus turned out on a fine night to see Tommy Craig’s side register a 10-1 success.

Leading the way was in-form Lewis Guy who scored four, while both Alan O'Brien and Darren Ambrose picked up a pair each. Efforts from Kris Gate, Martin Brittain and an own goal took United into double figures as they  claimed the trophy won by Durham City last season while Andy Morris beat Adam Bartlett from the penalty spot to get the home side in on the scoring act.


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