Ben Dawson has urged his Newcastle United youngsters to make the most of a ‘great opportunity’ when they take on Sunderland in the Checkatrade Trophy this evening.
The Magpies’ second string are one of just three Premier League academy sides remaining in the competition after battling through a tough group to reach the knockout stages.
Now, with a tie against their bitter local rivals on the horizon, Under-23s coach Dawson is keen for his side to make the most of what will be a unique experience at the Stadium of Light.
And, similarly to other games, Dawson believes the tie is a free shot for his under-23 squad – with nobody expecting them to progress.
He said: “It’s a free game. Nobody expected us to get out the group, nobody expected us to get past Macclesfield.
“It’ll be a great occasion and it’s great opportunity and experience for a group of young lads who may never sample that atmosphere again.
“We’ll prepare and we’ll go into the details, but then on the night it will be about them going and expressing themselves and soaking everything up while doing themselves justice on the pitch.”
Dawson – who saw his side beat the Black Cats’ U23 side on Friday afternoon – has been able to benefit from some first team experience throughout the campaign, with the likes of Achraf Lazaar and Florian Lejeune featuring at various points.
But he is unsure whether he will be able to benefit from such players at the Stadium of Light, with his preparation work focusing on the same squad that triumphed at the Academy of Light last week.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted, when asked about potential first team involvement.
“The first team have a game away at the weekend so we’ll plan on having the same group.
“If we get anybody then great, if not then the lads in there have shown that they’re more than up to the task ahead.”
While the Checkatrade Trophy has proved an educational experience for the Magpies’ youngsters, including the likes of Danish youngster Elias Sorensen and the Longstaff brothers Sean and Matty, so too has it served as a learning curve for Dawson and his staff.
And the Newcastle chief is relishing the chance to pit himself against Sunderland boss Jack Ross, having already tackled some big name managers in the competition thus far.
“It’ll be a good test,” he added. “We’ve had that in terms of Grant McCann at Doncaster, Harry Kewell at Notts County, and Grimsby against Mike Jolley and Sol Campbell at Macclesfield.
“There’s some big names in there.
“He [Ross] is doing a great job, doing that back up towards the top of the league where they can get back in the Championship.
“So it’ll be a good test, not just for the lads but for the staff as well.
“It is almost a one-off, we certainly won’t get many nights like this.
“We can only control what is controllable, you can’t control the crowd.
“What you can control is how you focus, how you prepare and how you approach the game.
“It’s a big game for their development as players and it’s a great reward for their efforts.”