Newcastle in the Barclays U21 Premier League

Posted by Marc Duffy

This season the Premier League have introduced a new competition format aimed at bridging the gap between the Academies, the Reserve Teams and the First Teams.

For years we have watched Reserve sides with out of favour once-were First Teamers who didn't want to be there and ageing pros running around looking like they had lost the will to live, so I think that this is real progression if implemented properly.

17 Premier League clubs and 6 Championship clubs successfully applied to enter. These are the clubs who have (or are working towards) category one academy status. These 23 clubs were drawn into three separate groups - we were placed in group 2 along with Aston Villa, Manchester United, Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland, Spurs and Watford. Three teams will qualify from our group after all fixtures have been played and will go into an elite group. Once the elite groups are decided a play off system will determine the overall champions.

Teams are allowed to field a maximum of three over-21 outfield players and one over aged goalkeeper.

Our opening results really caught my eye - we started off the season with a 6 v 4 home win over Spurs with goals from Campbell (3), Good, Vuckic and Inman. This was followed up by a 5 v 1 hammering of Stoke at the Britannia with the goals coming from Inman (3), Maddison and Hooper. 16 goals in two games! With that going on I thought I would pop along to Whitley Park for our third game - Southampton.

We lined up without any over aged players:

1. Jak Alnwick (19), 2. Alex Nicholson (18), 3. Yven Moyo (20), 4. Connor Newton (20), 5. Steven Logan (18), 6. Curtis Good (19), 7. Adam Campbell (17), 8. Michael Richardson (20), 9. Sammy Ameobi (20), 10. Bradden Inman (20), 11. JJ Hooper (18) - team average age 19

Despite Southampton fielding one over aged player, Jack Cork (aged 23 and playing after returning from injury) their average age was only 18.5.

The game was a real contrast in playing styles. Southampton kept the ball on the floor and built up from the back, using their wide players wherever possible. Jake Sinclair gave Moyo a torrid time passing him regularly with ease and Ben Reeves overlapped brilliantly from their left back position. On the other hand we mainly pumped long balls forward. We were bright early on and at that point it looked like Southampton's insistence on playing 'football' might cost them, but they slowly began to control the game and were good value for their 1 v 0 win - 17 year old Sam McQueen netted the only goal of the game.

Sammy Ameobi returned from a lengthy injury lay off. His first contribution was excellent (he flicked the ball over a defenders head and then left three trailing behind him), but he was clearly rusty and didn't have a very good game.

The plus points for us were the performances of Jak Alnwick in nets and Curtis Good, who looked like he needed to cover the whole of the rest of the back four frequently. Our playing style was predictable and Southampton coped easily - starting Adam Campbell out wide was a peculiar choice, but it became even more bizarre when he played through the middle late in the second half and had long, high balls aimed in his direction. For those of you who don't know, he's 5'6" and the centre half marking him had an advantage of about nine inches! We lacked any sort of linking point between our back four and the forward players. When the ball did fall to the feet of our central midfielders they consistently tried to play the ball out wide, but the wide men were struggling to cope.

It is important to remember that we have a lot of players who couldn't play tonight because they will be travelling with the first team to Everton on Monday including Vuckic, Tavernier and Bigirimana. Other eligible players include Ranger, Ferguson (injured), Streete (injured) and the very promising Mehdi Abeid who seems to have disappeared from the radar altogether.

Despite this setback we are still in a strong position in the group and a win in our next fixture (Sunderland at St James' Park on Tuesday night) will get us right back on track!

If you have any questions about the league or the players, leave them in the comment box below or tweet them to me @MarcSDuffy If you were there let me know who stood out for you.

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