What a few dozen Newcastle United fans saw at a near-empty stadium
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There were 5,501 vociferous fans in the North Stand almost six years ago when Dwight Gayle struck twice in a 2-0 Championship win over Barnsley.
But there were only a few dozen United supporters in the stand last night. They had made their way to South Yorkshire to see the club’s Under-21 side take on League One club Barnsley in a Papa John’s Trophy group stage game.
The game ended in a 2-0 defeat. Newcastle were beaten by two late goals, the second of which was a stunning free-kick from Ziyad Larkeche. United had been competitive until Barnsley’s 79th-minute opener, scored by Jack Butterfill.
Newcastle, held to a goalless draw by Doncaster Rovers last month, had had some good spells of possession.
Joe White caught the eye a couple of times as he works towards full fitness, but they lacked a final ball all evening, and Dylan Stephenson, playing up front, didn’t get many sights of goal.
At the other end, goalkeeper Jude Smith, recruited from East Fife this summer, was kept busy.
“We worked hard, the effort was there,” said coach Elliot Dickman. “Certain things in these games we need to be better at, especially when we’re in possession. We moved the ball around reasonably well, but we don’t create a great deal.
"In Under-21 games, we do that, so it’s just the mindset to go forward with the ball and continue with what we’ve been doing with our normal programme.”
United have only got out of the group stage of the competition, won by Sunderland last year, once, and they must win their final group game against Lincoln City on October 18 to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stages.
For Dickman, though, the experience his young players gain playing against first-team players is all-important.
“The experience of coming here is fantastic for the young players, even myself,” said Dickman.
“We learn a lot in these games. There’s parts of the game that we’re pleased with, but when we’ve got the ball, we need to be better with it, especially higher up the pitch.”
Newcastle’s new owners, of course, are looking to strengthen at all levels, the club, which looked at Southampton’s Tyler Dibling last season, is wisely planning to invest more in an Academy from which midfielder Elliot Anderson recently graduated with honours.
Speaking to the Gazette after last year’s takeover, co-owner Amanda Staveley said: “We appreciate the gem we’re custodians of, and we’ll make sure that every single part of this club is dusted down, and we’ll invest in all levels. We’ve got to. It’s critical. It can’t happen without that.
"Please, rest assured we understand we’ve got a big job to do, and we’re not scared of rolling up our sleeves and getting on with it quickly. But, sometimes, we don’t want to make hasty decisions when we don’t know where we are today and what we have.
"We don’t want to make knee-jerk decisions, but we know we’ll be investing very heavily over the next few years.”
In the meantime, Dickman’s Under-21s might be down, but they’re not yet out of a competition which should help prepare them for loans and first-team football.