By Tom Easterby - Newcastle United Club Reporter
Teenager Nathan Harker says his fine showing on his under-21 debut has given him a confidence boost as he looks to establish himself as one of Newcastle United's top young goalkeepers.
Seventeen-year-old Harker was handed his first start for United's second string in the 1-1 Barclays Under-21 Premier League Division Two draw at Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday night.
And the youngster responded with a superb showing at the Checkatrade.com stadium, making three crucial saves to keep Peter Beardsley's side in the game.
Harker told nufc.co.uk that he was happy with his display on his first under-21 outing - once he'd adjusted to his new surroundings.
"I realised after about ten minutes how much quicker it was. I've trained with them a lot before, but after ten minutes I think everyone got taken aback by the pace of the game. Everyone settled in though, and by the second half I thought we were the better team," he said.
"Everyone looked a bit nervous in the first ten minutes and then we realised that it was just the same thing but a lot quicker.
"I thought I played really well. I made some good saves, one in the first half and a couple in the second half, and that was great for my confidence, really. I tried to play a lot like I'd played in the younger age groups and just tried to put that into practice at a quicker pace, and I thought it came off well."
One particularly memorable stop came just before half time, with United trailing 1-0.
Henrik Bjordal's low cross found former Real Madrid forward Jack Harper unmarked in the area and poised to apply the finish from close range.
"I saw them coming through and I checked over my left shoulder and saw there was a man in the middle, so I knew he was going to square it," recalled Harker. "I just realised if I couldn't get down to stop the cross then I'd have to turn and try and make the save, so I just tried to get across the goal quickly and make myself big as possible.
"It raises you a bit and lets you keep going and kick on."
Harker's display also earned him plaudits from the Magpies' football development manager Beardsley, who lauded the custodian's "unbelievable" saves to keep the Seagulls out.
"He made a couple of unbelievable saves, but the thing I liked about him was that he was very composed, trying to play out from the back, and that's what we expect our goalies to do," said Beardsley.
"Fair play to him - he couldn't have made a better debut.
"He hasn't done himself any harm. Looking long term, considering he's still a first year, he can hopefully kick on next year and get even better and establish himself in the 18s first."
And Harker himself believes that the point United brought back to Tyneside from their long journey south on Wednesday was warranted - and he wants to use his experience with the under-21s as a springboard for his development as a player.
"In the second half, we started playing quicker football and I thought we were the better team. We could have even nicked it at the end, but I thought overall, with a young squad, we did really well and it was thoroughly deserved point," said Harker.
"I want to push on now and try and get more starts, but I just want to keep performing like that at every level I play, and my time will come."