By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
Academy coach Kevin Richardson believes Newcastle's youngsters showed with their win against Aston Villa that they are improving as a team with experience, and has challenged them to continue their upward curve at Stoke on Saturday.
Dave Watson's under-18s set off for the Potteries on Friday evening ahead of the 11am kick-off at the hosts' Clayton Wood Training Centre, having already won the reverse fixture 1-0 last month.
That was one of just two victories so far this season for a squad made up almost entirely of first-year scholars and still missing a number of players through injury, with the other coming in their last outing against Villa two weeks ago.
On that occasion they came from behind thanks to goals from Alex Gilliead and Alex Kitchen and Under-18s Assistant Coach Richardson was delighted with what he saw that afternoon.
"In previous games we might have lost it, but I think just gaining a bit of experience was the difference," said the former Everton and England midfielder.
"What these lads are coming up against in terms of physicality and players who are maybe a little bit quicker because some lads are older, that's not an excuse but they're the circumstances that these lads face.
"But to come back and fight to get back into the game - and then fight again to go further and get the winning goal, then dig in to defend it because we were under pressure for the last ten minutes - shows that the lads have learnt a little bit about what it takes. And if that's game by game, so be it."
Gilliead isn't in the squad as he's on international duty with England under-17s alongside Freddie Woodman, but Kitchen is included as is fellow defender Kyle Cameron, who has been called up for the England under-16 squad to face Wales in the Sky Sports Victory Shield next month.
Lewis Aird continues his comeback following a year-long absence through injury while goalkeeper Ryan Crump is called up for the first time at this level and trialist Mechak Kanda will get another chance to prove his worth after figuring against the Villans.
The squad is: Ryan Crump, Jonathan Mitchell, Macauley Booth, Alex Kitchen, Ryan McKinnon, Kyle Cameron, Jamie Sterry, Steven Logan, Daniel Barlaser, Liam Smith, Callum Roberts, Jonathyn Quinn, Lewis Aird, James Morgan, Mechak Kanda, Greg Olley.