Dave Watson

By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter

On Friday evening, Newcastle's youngsters will head to Northern Ireland to compete in the Milk Cup, with Dave Watson naming an 18-man squad.

It is the first time the Magpies have taken part in the annual tournament - which they won in 1985 and 1989 - since 2005, with United entering the Premier section for players born after January 1st 1995.

As a result, Newcastle's party is made up largely of new scholars but the likes of striker Adam Campbell, defenders Lee Desmond and Alex Kitchen, midfielder Esteban Cardona Lopez and goalkeeper Aidan Grant are also eligible.

Schoolboys Freddie Woodman, Adam Armstrong and Jordan Storey will gain valuable experience too, with United's first game coming against County Fermanagh at Ferney Park in Ballinamallard on Saturday (kick-off 5pm).

Mexican side Pachuca - who many of these players faced in the Manchester United Premier Cup World Finals two years ago - are next up on Monday, with Ballymena Showgrounds the venue at 6pm, before the final group match against CSKA Moscow at the Riada Stadium, Ballymoney. the following day (kick-off 7pm).

Watson - who will be joined on the touchline by Academy Manager Joe Joyce and coaches Kevin Richardson and Chris Terpcou - told nufc.co.uk: "The competition is about giving the kids experiences and coming up against different playing styles.

"I should imagine that the first game, against a local side, will be a whole-hearted affair and a right good battle. Then we play a Mexican side and a Russian side, where you've got to be patient on the ball because they might be difficult to break down.

"There will be different systems of play that we come up against and the kids have got to learn to deal with that, so that's why this tournament's really good for the kids' experience.

"The majority of them have known each other for quite a few years now, but there's one or two that haven't so they're getting away for a little bit of team-building and getting to know people a little bit better.

"And the lads will learn how to adjust themselves to kicking off at six o'clock on an evening and then maybe three o'clock on the afternoon the next day. They have to gain the experience of kicking off at different times of day, how much training you do and resting on an afternoon, so it's a great learning curve for the young kids."

The likes of Manchester United, Benfica and Tottenham are also competing in the competition which attracts huge interest across the Irish sea each year. Whole towns come out to see the teams paraded through the streets and fixtures - which are 70 minutes in duration - are well-attended.

"It's not just the Irish and British clubs that take part - it's a worldwide thing," explained Watson, aware that teams from Brazil, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Senegal and USA have entered this year.

"We've got the big parade on Sunday night, there's TV cameras from all over the world there and it really is a massive occasion for them. It's gained a reputation over the years for the quality of the football there and the quality of the teams that go over there, and that's why it attracts all the better clubs."

United have warmed up for the competition with friendly games against Gateshead and Hartlepool, which ended 3-3 and 2-2 respectively, and Watson has seen plenty of positive signs in those matches.

"I've been very encouraged," he said. "We've drawn a couple of games but we've created a number of chances and what we've been working on in training, we can see is coming out in the games so the lads are taking things on board.

"That's the most important thing. They're still only very young and they are going to make mistakes along the way, but as long as they learn quickly that's all we can ask for."

Newcastle United's squad for the Milk Cup is: Aidan Grant, Freddie Woodman, Macauley Booth, Lee Desmond, Ryan McKinnon, James Morgan, Alex Kitchen, Lubo Satka, Jamie Sterry, Jordan Storey, Greg Olley, Liam Smith, Esteban Cardona Lopez, Rolando Aarons, Adam Armstrong, Adam Campbell, Jonathyn Quinn, Alex Gilliead.