Newcastle United's 4th round victory over Leeds in the Capital One Cup was notable for a few reasons. A comfortable second-gear win, the game highlighted the squad's strength in depth and also saw a much-needed notch for goal-shy Papiss Cisse.
The most prominent of talking points, however, was the inclusion and performances of two academy graduates who excelled down the left flank at St Jame'' Park.
Paul Dummett and Sammy Ameobi have been at the club since they were nine and 14-years-old respectively and on Wednesday night showed that they deserve as much as anyone to be vying for places with the more established foreign imports on Tyneside.
They slotted in so comfortably alongside the likes of Coloccini, Tiote, and Cisse, and looked like they belonged. There were no moments of inexperience, no questions about their ability or temperament; but stand-out performances in the black and white. Dummett's perfectly weighted clip down the line and Ameobi's steaming run and pinpoint effortless cross, which Cisse merely had to walk into to score, was a truly brilliant combination.
Ameobi later provided Yoan Gouffran with the platform to superbly add a second but it was the way the two Geordie lads combined down the left all game that was most refreshing. They made Newcastle's left side the driving force, the creative zone in the assault on the Leeds penalty area. They combined, lapped and overlapped and gave the opposition a torrid first half in particular. Once the result was sealed they showed composure and experience beyond their years to help see out the comfortable 90 minutes.
To see the two local lads interlink how they did gives real hope to young Newcastle hopefuls who dream of running out at St James' Park. Newcastle United has been famed for too few top class local players such as Beardsley, Gascoigne, and Shearer (who took the long way round to make it for Newcastle). Of course Tim Krul's rise has been impressive and well nurtured but the Dutchman is only an adopted Geordie. Only Steven Taylor, Andy Carroll and Shola Ameobi (Nigerian birth, I know) have really made it for United in the last 10/12 years as local lads. At 22 years old Dummett's emergence is perhaps late when you consider that most potential stars are in and around the first team at 18-20 years old in the modern game. If they haven't made the grade in their teens many are cut loose, or sever the ties themselves so it is somewhat of a relief to see Paul backed by Alan Pardew, and by himself, to eventually make his dreams come true.
It shows any youngster in the academy that they can make it themselves; that the hard-work, determination, and use of the loan system, can also get them to the first-team picture. Dummett's patience has been rewarded, and in Pardew Newcastle have a manager who will put faith in the young players if they really strive for it. He has waxed lyrical about Dummett and Ameobi, stressing how there is always a way to the Newcastle first team.
In Sammy Ameobi's case, the game against Leeds saw a different, developed player that has previously run out at St James' in the last couple of seasons. Sammy's directness in the modern technical game was a breath of fresh air when he first appeared, however it was soon apparent that his inexperience was holding him back. I would find myself groaning and bemoaning as Sammy ran down the line until he was tackled or, as I noticed all too often last season before his loan to Middlesbrough, until he himself ran the ball out of play! The lad was too eager to impress in a league where young players don't get too many chances. He needed to learn when to run with the ball, when to hold back, when to pass, and when to put in that killer ball. Against Leeds United Sammy Ameobi did all of that. He looked like he had come on leaps and bounds and become that player, a player good enough to challenge and overtake the likes of Marveaux and Jonas for first-team places.
The performances of Dummett and Ameobi were much needed in the wake of criticism from FA chairman Greg Dyke. Dyke blasted Newcastle when referring to the overload of foreign players in the Premier League. I remember tutting and condemning when Arsenal fielded the first all-foreign starting XI a few years back yet my own team followed suit in the 2-1 victory at Aston Villa earlier this season. Sir John Hall's vision of "11 Geordies" couldn't have been further from possible on that day. The leagues over-reliance on foreign players has caused an English decline. The financial implications of each and every league position (particularly the bottom three) has created a fear in football clubs who will spend money on so called "internationals" from all over the world to keep them afloat rather than use their own produce. Only Aston Villa and Southampton have recently really relied on home-grown; a gamble that eventually paid off for Villa last season. Buying from Europe and overseas is also more cost effective, as Newcastle's French Revolution will testify, and those precarious English talents that remain subsequently have their price tags severely inflated.
As a Newcastle fan I sit back and am disappointed about our lack of British players, let alone Geordies. But when it comes down to it, when you need to throw on a Marveaux or a Sammy Ameobi to save a game, I admit that I would plump for the "established" foreign player over the young English hopeful. And that, sadly, is the nature of the Premier League now with so much at stake.
"You'll win nothing with kids," once declared TV pundit Alan Hansen. Seemingly only Sir Alex Ferguson disagreed with him, which is rather baffling considering how it worked out for him. Many will cite Manchester United's class of 1992 and will say it will never happen again. But it's only the nature of modern day football in England that would prevent a repeat. Granted, they were a talented bunch individually but it was the work-ethic and team spirit instilled in them that nurtured their ability. Foreign player limits in Europe also helped, Gary Neville was playing Champions League at 18, and there's no coincidence that the class of 92 were in the thick of it in 1999.
It's a rightly celebrated group yet there's no reason why it couldn't have happened again elsewhere. Those Manchester United players went right through the ranks together, a togetherness that could aid Dummett and Ameobi at Newcastle. It wasn't just Paul Dummett in the team with the senior stars, his academy pal Sammy was there alongside him. Granted it's not quite Neville and Beckham just yet but by forming a relationship in one area of the pitch with another young player (and they certainly have an effective one already) can have a real positive effect on their development. There was a trust between the two, an understanding, and a confidence of having each other. They're not in there alone, one young star among a team of established seniors. They can progress as a pair. It certainly helps that they play down the same side as two left-footers.
Unfortunately TV and media dominance has created a monster in English football, and any hopes of another "Fergie's Fledglings" or even a "Geordie 11" are virtually non-existent with the current set-up.
Modern football with all its glitz and glamour has dangerously created a new type of football apprentice; a young player who strives to have what senior players' have OFF the pitch rather than ON it. Clarke Carlisle recently revealed his horror as our own Newcastle prospects climbed aboard the team coach will all their gadgets while Peter Beardsley pushed the trolley of dirty laundry. A sad picture to imagine of course, do any of them know that they could never be as good a player as Pedro was? They should be pushing him around in a trolley made of gold. Sadly this is how it is now in football; there's no boot cleaning anymore as youngsters enjoy a charmed life while their talents often fall by the wayside.
Paul Dummett is somebody who has NOT let his talent fall by the wayside. He's proven what it's really all about - hard work. And at 22 years old he's finally making the grade with his hometown club and on the brink of being an international. Against Manchester City at Eastlands, Mapou Yanga Mbiwa had a torrid time against Jesus Navas but Dummett largely caged the Spaniard in the second half of a forgettable night for Newcastle; underlining his potential. Sammy Ameobi admitted his failings last year; he wasn't stubborn or defensive as he recognised that he needed to work harder. Now he, Newcastle United, and England U21s, are beginning to reap the rewards. He has been the driving force in both Capital One Cup successes with a goal at Morecombe to boot. Newcastle fans have only had Andy Carroll, Shola, and Steven Taylor to be proud of (from a local perspective) in the last 10 years but I really feel that Paul Dummett and Sammy Ameobi can make the grade and live every Geordies dream of running out in the black and white every other week at St James' Park. Hopefully their performances against Leeds will lead to more opportunities in the Premier League and come May we will be celebrating a successful season for the Academy duo.