By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
Academy Goalkeeping Coach Chris Terpcou admits it will be a "massive blow" for under-18s keeper Alex Baird to sit out for the next few matches after undergoing a groin operation this week.
But he believes Jonathan Mitchell and Aidan Grant are capable of replacing the Australian teenager, who has started all but one of United's superb start to the Premier Academy League.
Wollongong-born Baird, who has conceded just twice in his last four appearances, came to Newcastle following a tip-off from Manchester United's goalkeeping guru Eric Steele, and his family have emigrated to North-East England to support the 17-year-old in his career.
However, he is now likely to be sidelined for between a month and six weeks after going under the knife and Terpcou told nufc.co.uk: "It's a massive blow for the lad.
"He came in really keen for pre-season because he knew Jak Alnwick was moving up to the Reserves, and he's seen the opportunity and worked really hard.
"Like any player - but especially a goalkeeper - games breed confidence and confidence breeds consistency. That's the thing he was starting to get in his game, so it is a pit-stop for the lad.
"Without a doubt, he's had an influence on his team with his ability to read the game as well as keep possession. That might sound a bit daft as a goalkeeper, but it's a massive thing in the modern game.
"Technically, he's dealt with things well with regard to his goalkeeping. The thing he needs to improve on is having a presence on the pitch - he is relatively quiet - but if he can do that then he's on the right path."
"He's been brilliant in his attitude and he's worked really hard and we're definitely seeing an improvement as time goes on. I think the key thing for him now is to remain really positive; it's only a short-term injury and it can help him take stock of where he is in his game and what he's done. Sometimes if you play week after week after week, you just don't get the opportunity to do that."
But Terpcou, who joined Newcastle seven years ago and works with the clubs goalkeepers between the age of nine and Reserve team level, is confident that whoever gets the opportunity to replace Baird will grab the chance with both hands.
Hartlepool-born Mitchell and 6ft 6ins Grant are hoping to get the nod from Academy Manager Joe Joyce, while 14-year-old Freddie Woodman made his Reserve debut in Wednesday's friendly win over York.
"We've got a brilliant set-up here at the Academy," said Terpcou. "We've got some really promising young goalkeepers and as much as there's a lot of rivalry, they get on really well.
"It is a little frustrating for any of them when they're not playing much football but they know that's part and parcel of the game. And while we had a glut of goalkeepers two weeks ago, all of a sudden with Ole Soderberg going out on loan and Jak Alnwick currently on loan at Gateshead and Alex Baird being injured, there's an opportunity to be involved in Reserve team training - and even up to the point where one or two of them have been involved in training with the first-team.
"But even better, there's an opportunity to play football on a Saturday."
Mitchell made his Reserve debut against Manchester City last season at the age of 15 - a feat made all the more impressive considering he played rugby, rather than football, for most of his schooldays.
"Jonny's an interesting character because he only started playing football as a goalkeeper at 14 or 15," said Terpcou. "When you think where he was at 14 to where he is now, he's come a long, long way - but, of course, he still has a long way to go.
"But he's got a lot of good attributes and playing for the under-17s in midweek friendlies, the under-18s and the Reserves will hopefully give him the confidence and the understanding of what is required to be a goalkeeper."
Grant, meanwhile, was part of the second-string squad which travelled to Holland in pre-season and although he didn't play in any of the three games, he impressed in training.
Terpcou said: "That was a brilliant experience for him because there were four or five first-team players there, including Joey Barton, who were a different class with him.
"And he's another one who's learning his trade. The big thing for Aidan is improving his decision-making - and playing games would create those opportunities for him."