It’s not often that a 4-0 loss to local rivals Sunderland would have any cause for celebration for those in the Toon faithful, but in many ways Newcastle’s third round Checkatrade Trophy defeat on Tuesday night had just that about it.
After all, this was Newcastle United’s academy prospects battling it out against the senior team of the club’s closest (geographically speaking) rival. These are the faces that make up United’s woefully underfunded and underdeveloped academy setup, and despite the heavy 4-0 final score, they proved themselves to have at least something about them.
They held their League One opposition to a goalless first half, despite being up against players with years of experience.
Their opponents held nothing back, in what was a remarkable atmosphere for a competition that a few years back struggled to attract attendances over a couple hundred, and those young Magpies players got a true taste of English football. And for the large part, they held their own and showed great resilience.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves too far, mind. These players are certainly nowhere close to being first-team capable. Many likely found that the level they were facing up against – against a side at the top end of League One – is about as high as their careers will likely take them.
However, the match did serve to show that but all is not as bleak and desperate a situation as it might have previously appeared with Newcastle’s academy.
With the right loan experiences and more exposure to this level of competition, there is every right to believe that this crop of players can make something of themselves. They certainly proved themselves capable at Football League levels.
And that was before further development.
Newcastle’s under-21s squad that competed in this tournament weren’t even supposed to get out of the group stage, let alone perform as well as they have done.
With future loans to back up the raw talent they’ve demonstrated with some further experience of senior football, there is the potential for some of these players to certainly knock on the door of the first team setup. None are likely to be world-beaters, but for a club that struggles with squad depth and is unlikely to be forthcoming with funds for buying players to offer cover, developing from within actually looks like a possible option.
Now, let’s not suggest that the performances in this competition absolve Newcastle’s need to improve and overhaul their academy. That still desperately needs to happen, as it has done since the very moment Rafa Benitez stepped through the doors, but it has been nice to some glimmers of positivity coming from the academy.