By Dan King - Newcastle United Digital Editor
Peter Beardsley admitted that a "poor" first-half performance gave his Newcastle under-21s too big a mountain to climb as they lost 3-0 to Fulham on Monday.
Before the game, United's Football Development Manager had challenged his team to match the standards they'd set in their previous two matches, a 4-2 win at West Bromwich Albion and a battling defeat with ten men against Stoke City.
But the young Magpies fell behind to Mikolaj Kwietniewski's strike after nine minutes and, although Callum Smith hit the woodwork and Daniel Barlaser had a shot well saved, they rarely looked like getting back into the match despite a much-improved second half performance.
Stephen Humphrys scored twice - once from the penalty spot and again in the dying seconds of the match, and Beardsley told nufc.co.uk: "I think in the first half we were poor. We weren't as quick to the ball as we'd like to have been.
"But we had a chat with them and in the second half they put a few things right. I thought they played really well in the second half and 3-0 was probably a bit flattering to Fulham.
"It's one of those things; we knew it would be difficult because we had such a young team, but there are always positives."
The biggest plus was the second-half showing and Beardsley explained: "Ben (Dawson, professional development phase coach) and I gave them a few home truths in terms of, not their attitude but the pace they were running at and closing people down.
"We intensified that, if you like, and from then on they were a lot better and in the second half, until the last goal, there was only one team that looked likely to score.
"So it was pleasing in that sense and there were two lads making debuts for the under 21s, so that was a big bonus."
Full-backs Ben Kitchen and Jake Trodd were handed their first second-string starts because several players - including Callum Roberts, the newly-crowned Barclays Under-21 Player of the Month - were unavailable.
Jamie Sterry was suspended while Liam Gibson was not considered after playing for 82 minutes in the first team's friendly victory over Lillestrom on Saturday.
Newcastle's next Barclays Under-21 Premier League fixture is not until Friday, 11th March when the Magpies entertain West Ham United at St. James' Park so by then, Beardsley could have several more players at his disposal.
But when asked if that was a prospect which pleased him, the former England star replied: "If I'm being selfish, yes, but to be honest it doesn't bother me in the sense that if Jamie Sterry stays with the first team and gets the chance to be around them, that's great.
"I believe 'Gippa' (Gibson) did well in Spain, so who knows - he might be involved with them and if he is, it's another great bonus.
"That's our job. We've had Kevin Mbabu break through this season; Rolando (Aarons), Fred (Woodman) has been with (the first team) for most of the season, Jamie Sterry has been with them a lot and Dan Barlaser and Cal Williams went to La Manga as well.
"So the more we can get through, the better."