By Tom Easterby - Newcastle United Club Reporter
At the Checkatrade.com Stadium
Brighton & Hove Albion Under-21s 1 (Collar)
Newcastle United Under-21s 1 (Roberts)
Callum Roberts' second half equaliser earned Newcastle United a point against Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday night.
Roberts' goal on the hour cancelled out Will Collar's opener and ensured United made the long trip back to Tyneside with a share of the spoils.
Football development manager Peter Beardsley named a youthful side for the trip to the home of League Two side Crawley Town, just over 20 miles from Brighton.
Seventeen-year-old goalkeeper Nathan Harker took his place between the sticks for his competive second-string debut after his substitute appearance in the 2-2 friendly draw against FC Edmonton on Friday, while there was also a first league start at under-21 level for fellow youngsters Craig Spooner and Luke Charman.
Forward Ivan Toney - out since January with an ankle injury - made his return to the side with Beardsley handing him the captain's armband, and the former Northampton Town man was involved in the Magpies' first attack, combining well with Dan Ward, whose pass through the Seagulls' defence almost found Charman.
At the other end, United's centre-half pairing of Owen Bailey and Gideon Adu-Peprah dealt well with some dangerous early crosses sent in by lively winger Joe Ward. Bailey got just enough on one such delivery to divert it away from Vahid Hambo as Beardsley's side continued to hold their own.
Then it was the turn of Newcastle winger Roberts to cause his opposite number, full-back Dylan Barnett, some problems. The 18-year-old's inswinging centre was met by Charman, whose header - which was saved by Robert Sanchez - would have been chalked off, as the offside flag was up.
Another Roberts delivery narrowly evaded Toney, but it was the hosts who took the lead with their first shot on target. Midfielder Collar's sidefooted effort from just outside the box flew in off the post, giving Harker no chance and giving the Barclays Under-21 Premier League Division Two's bottom club the advantage after 16 minutes.
Simon Rusk's side could have made it two when powerful frontman Hambo blazed over with Harker bearing down on him, but United retained their threat, with Roberts again skipping past Barnett on the right to force Sanchez to parry his cross-shot from a tight angle out for a corner.
Newcastle custodian Harker, meanwhile, pulled off a stunning save to deny former Real Madrid schemer Jack Harper from point-blank range, diving to his left to stop the Scottish youth international's shot before Ward pulled the rebound wide.
Toney shot wide and Roberts saw his strike blocked as United ended the half well, but after the break - with Mackenzie Heaney on in place of Toney - Harker was forced to make another fine stop when substitute Jonah Ayunga wriggled through the Magpies' backline and took aim.
A minute later, the rookie stopper was called into action again when Ayunga hit the post and Harker had to get down well to smother the follow-up and prevent his side from going 2-0 down.
After Roberts had tested Sanchez with a low free kick from distance, Brighton's Ayunga wasted his third opportunity within five minutes of his introduction as the tall striker nodded another chance over Harker's crossbar.
But United deservedly drew level on the hour. Charman won a header in the middle of the park, finding Heaney with his flick-on. The Magpies sub then played it back into Charman's path with a neat backheel, allowing the forward to release Roberts on the left. The winger cut inside and beat Sanchez with a terrific curling strike which found the top left-hand corner - his seventh league goal of the season.
The goal gave Beardsley's charges renewed impetus as they sought a second, but Brighton still threatened whenever crosses came into the area. Adu-Peprah and Bailey remained resolute in the face of pressure from Ayunga in particular.
Another Newcastle replacement, Owen Gallacher, almost got a shot away after a Roberts lay-off and Ayunga blasted wide but - after a feisty final 20 minutes - the scoreline stayed level, meaning the Magpies picked up their first league point since January.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Robert Sanchez, Rob Hunt, Dylan Barnett, Will Collar, Ben White, Nathaniel Oseni, Joe Ward, Jesse Starkey, Vahid Hambo (Jonah Ayunga 45), Jack Harper (Max Sanders 83), Henrik Bjordal (James Tilley 68)
Subs not used: Bailey Vose, George Cox
Newcastle United: Nathan Harker, Craig Spooner, Ben Kitchen, Dan Ward (Jack Hunter 61), Owen Bailey, Gideon Adu-Peprah, Callum Roberts, Sean Longstaff, Ivan Toney (Mackenzie Heaney 45), Luke Charman, Callum Smith (Owen Gallacher 61)
Subs not used: Dan Lowther, Stefan Broccoli
Referee: Ian Cooper
Bookings: Brighton & Hove Albion - none; Newcastle United - none