The U23s began their season with a 1-1 draw at West Brom on Monday after they came back from being 1-0 down at the break.
Callum Roberts scored the goal, and he is trying to score more goals and get more assists to get the attention of Rafa Benitez.
And there’s a derby game against Sunderland next Monday, and that’s being keenly looked forward to, as is any game against Sunderland at any age level.
I remember way back in the olden days of 1960 playing for Newcastle schoolboys against Sunderland at St. James’ Park in April of that year and we won that game – think it was 2-1.
On Good Friday the next year at Hunters Moor, I played for Newcastle Juniors (U-18) in a 2-1 win over Sunderland – with a young Jimmy Montgomery in the opposing goal.
Anyway, enough of those distant memories – back to the important stuff.
On Monday night the U23 team weren’t at the races in the first half but came back well in the second half.
That inconsistency is present with younger players, and they have to learn how to concentrate and play 100% over the full game.
Ben Dawson – Newcastle U23 coach
Our U-23 coach Ben Dawson has been talking on the Newcastle website, and this is some of what he had to say:
“We valued time on the pitch and time as a group [during pre-season], trying to get a new group of players settled in,”
“We’re aware we might lose one or two from that group once the loan window shuts at the end of the month.”
“So we’ve had to get all those new lads and the younger lads who didn’t get an opportunity last year to step up this year and get up to speed – hence the more time spent on the training pitch this pre-season.”
“The first game’s always a difficult one. I look back to Stoke away last year, when we started the game really well and then allowed them to come back into it, and it was a reversal of that this year,”
“But that’s U-23s football – you don’t get a 90-minute performance, they’re still young lads, they’re still learning, and part of that is the inconsistency that comes with that.”
“But there’s plenty there that we’re happy with, and there are bits we want to work on, and I think the lads are mature enough to recognize it.”
“We had a little bit more energy and a bit more intensity in the second half.”
“In the first half, we were a yard off, and that can often be the case when you’ve just had pre-season and then you come into a competitive game.”
“Credit to them – they came out with lots of energy and we couldn’t match that.”
“We sorted a few things out at halftime – among ourselves more than anything else – just to say: ‘Let’s get 10 yards higher up the pitch, get them on the back foot and put them under the pressure they’ve put us under.’”
“I thought in the second half we created loads of chances but we just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
“That’s frustrating, especially when we got the one early on at the start of the second half.
“It was a frustrating afternoon, but I’m pleased that we responded the way we did at the start of the second half.”
A few of the U23 squad will be going out on loan, as Ben suggests in his comments.
The best way to develop the younger players is to give them football at other clubs so they can get first-team playing time and the experience on and off the pitch that comes with that.
The U23 level is one area that Rafa Benitez wants to see an improvement in, and Ben Dawson is tasked with that responsibility.
It’s a terrific coaching opportunity for Ben.