By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
Willie Donachie admitted that missing out on a place in Tier One of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League despite a flying start to the season was "very disappointing" after Monday night's 5-1 defeat at Southampton.
That result in the final match of 2012 meant United finished sixth ahead of the league splitting into three groups in the new year. And while the Saints reached the Elite group thanks to their win, Newcastle will play in Tier Two despite starting the campaign with big wins over Tottenham and Stoke.
After two games, the Magpies had six points and 11 goals but results suffered due to the first-team's European commitments, injuries to the likes of Michael Richardson and Alex Nicholson and several players heading out on loan.
So from looking on course for the Elite section in the early weeks, United had to be content with Tier Two and Donachie reflected on the first half of the season as he spoke to nufc.co.uk after the South Coast loss.
"It's very disappointing but it's no catastrophe because we're still playing good teams - Manchester City are in it, Blackburn, Crystal Palace, Fulham - so the standard will still be high, but it is very disappointing after the start we had," he said.
"Basically it's down to injuries, players out on loan, players with the first-team. The team has been very depleted but I don't want to make excuses because we've still got 11 players against their 11 and I felt we should have done better than we did.
"But they tried their best and kept working and at 2-0 we still thought we had a chance of getting something out of the game. Unfortunately they got a goal just after half-time. We got one back and it looked like we could do something but then they got another goal.
"A lot of it, again, was down to inexperience at the back. Steve Logan has played most of his career in midfield, up-front, centrally - now he's playing right-back. Kitch (Alex Kitchen) is just learning the game, an Academy player. Michael Riley... they're all young, just learning.
"In midfield we had two young players, Dennis (Knight) and Brandon (Miele) who haven't had a lot of games this season so it's good for them to get the experience and it's great that they didn't give up. They kept trying."
Newcastle had been on top before Tandanari Lee gave the home side the lead at Eastleigh Town's Silverlake Stadium, but Southampton ended up adding further goals through a Ben Reeves brace and Sam Hoskins' double.
"The first goal was a long ball; they just put one in behind us, the guy got a run on Steve (Logan), went past him and crossed," Donachie explained. "That was really a little bit against the run of play.
"Then their second goal was a one in a hundred goal - he's hit it from 25 yards, top corner. After that we really pressed them and did a lot of good work. It's just a shame we didn't get one goal back so at half-time it was 2-0 and I was confident we could score goals against them.
"But sadly we didn't start the second half very well and they got a third goal. Adam (Campbell) scored for us, which was great and it was great to see him back again. We wanted to bring him on when the game settled down a bit but because we were losing 2-0 I thought we'd get him on and that was fine and he handled it really well.
"He's looked sharp in training, he's a very quick, intelligent player and he just needs to keep working and he'll be a player.
"As the game went on, they got stronger and our lads tired. They got another goal and then another goal and it looked worse than it was because in big parts of the game we were the better team or at least as good as them."
Despite the scoreline, though, Donachie praised goalkeeper Jak Alnwick who made a handful of saves to keep the score down.
"It's been like that all season - when we've lost a lot of goals, he's made a lot of good saves and again it's a shame for Jak," he said.
"But he's getting a lot of good experience and a lot of practice."
Photograph courtesy of Southampton FC