The exciting young player at Newcastle United on the cusp of making his debut
There was a new face among the Newcastle United substitutes at Selhurst Park.
Sat in the seats behind the away dugout in the stadium’s old Main Stand, along with the likes of Matt Ritchie and DeAndre Yedlin, was an 18-year-old midfielder.
Elliot Anderson didn’t make it off the Covid-secure bench during Friday night’s game, won 2-0 by Newcastle, but it’s surely only a matter of time before we see him make his debut at first-team level.
Anderson, from Whitley Bay, has been training with Steve Bruce’s senior squad for several weeks now – and he hasn’t looked out of place.
A technically-gifted player with a good awareness, a fierce competitive streak and an eye for a goal, Anderson, a Scotland Under-19 international, can play as a No.10 or as a box-to-box midfielder.
And when Bruce lost thee players to Covid-19 infections on the eve of the Crystal Palace game – and Allan Saint-Maximin to a calf injury – he didn’t have any qualms about turning to Elliot, who joined the club’s Academy a decade ago after starting out at Wallsend Boys Club.
“He’s been with us now for two or three weeks with the problems we’ve had,” United's head coach told the Gazette. “Certainly, in the two or three weeks, he’s flourished. We think there’s a player in there.
“There’s a lot of work to do, of course. But we’re quietly pleased with him. He’s on the bench, which I’m sure he’ll remember for a long, long time. I’m delighted with his progress, but let’s not get carried away too far too quickly, as he’s got a long way to go, but, certainly, he’s a talented boy.”
Anderson’s talent has been in evidence at Under-23 level this season. He was given the captain’s armband after impressing in games – and in first-team training sessions.
As captain, Anderson has led by example, and, importantly, he has the respect of his team-mates. He’s also been a regular on the scoresheet in recent weeks.
Anderson – whose grandfather Geoff Allen was part of Newcastle’s 1969 Fairs Cup-winning squad – spent two years at Wallsend Boys Club, where he was coached by John Forrest.
“What I remember about Elliot is that even at a very young age, you could see that he was a really good player, had real potential,” said Forrest.
“He had a game awareness, even at a young age, that you could see. It’s very difficult to coach that awareness into players. He had this great ability to pop up in the box and score goals.
“Even though he was playing a year older, he stood out in many games. He was just a very talented footballer. You could see that. He also had this sort of tenacity, I don’t want to call it aggression. Sometimes it might develop through age, but sometimes players just have this natural tenacity. Elliot had that as well.
"He loved to win a tackle, to win the ball. You could see he had that slight edge, which you need, I think. He was a great all-round player, even at that young age.
“We didn’t like to pigeon-hole players in particular positions. We’d vary where they played. They’d play wide, in the centre. He would play in defence, just to give him that knowledge and vision so they understood somebody who does play in that position how difficult or challenging it is.
“He tended to prefer a more attacking midfield role, but we tried to play him in different positions just to give him that all-round experience. To be honest, you could play Elliot in any of those positions and he would be outstanding in any of them, even at that young age."
Anderson’s progress at the Academy, and more recently at first-team level, hasn’t surprised Forrest. Anderson’s hard work, and that of his supportive parents, is paying off.
“I’m not surprised how well he’s doing, to be honest,” said Forrest. “It’s great for him and his family – and the hard work they’ve put in over the years.
"Hopefully, there’s a small little bit that I’ve helped with. But, at that young age, you’re just starting them off on their journey. I’ve seen a lot of good, young players in my time, some you think have potential, but, for whatever reason, don’t actually make it to a good level because the end up having other interests – or are not as focused.
"It takes a lot to get to the stage Elliot has got to, a lot of commitment, a lot of hard work, both from him and his parents. It’s pleasing to see.”
Anderson’s recent long-range Papa John’s Trophy goal against Bolton Wanderers was particularly pleasing.
“I think if you haven’t seen one goal in particular he scored against Bolton, I think it’s worth having a look at,” said Bruce, who, like Anderson, started off at Wallsend Boys Club.
“He’s made us all smile, and given us something to be excited about, because he looks a very, very good player, the kid. We hope he keeps improving."
Bruce intends to keep Anderson – who signed a new long-term contract at St James’s Park on his 18th birthday and was previously an unused substitute against Newport County in the Carabao Cup – with his group for the foreseeable future.
“He can only improve playing and jumping up with us,” said Bruce. “He’ll stay with us. He’s not going back to the Academy. He’ll train us every day. We’re delighted with him, He’s been a breath of fresh air, it’s great to see.
“If he keeps performing the way he is, it’s inevitable he’ll get his chance.”