Possibly the most exciting academy product to come out of NUFC for over a decade passed his biggest challenge yet with flying colours last night.
Elliot Anderson, the 18-year old North Shields sensation who has been lighting up the U23 scene for us this season, started for our U21’s against Bolton Wanderers in the EFL trophy yesterday.
The League Two side may have made 11 changes from their 2-0 win against Salford at the weekend, but this still wasn’t a team of young hopefuls like what Anderson is used to pitting his wits against in the Premier League Division 2.
He went into yesterday’s clash having scored four goals in as many games for our reserve side this campaign but for the first time in his career, the youngster was asked to showcase his skills against a team of men. And boy, did he two just that, scoring two quality goals in the process.
His first goal was George Best-esque, dispossessing Brandon Comley on the edge of the box before skinning the Bolton midfielder and burying home with his left foot. The second was even better, an improvised first time volley to dumbfound the hapless Billy Crelim between the sticks. Both goals showed the Toon Army exactly what Anderson can do in the final third, when given the chance to do so.
The Longstaff brothers have broken into the first team setup in recent years but the majority of Newcastle fans feel underwhelmed by the lack of talent to emerge from our Benton base. Andy Carroll was the last player from our academy to go on and play for England, a player who broke through the system nearly 15 years ago.
It’s a bold statement, but the early signs suggest Elliot Anderson could well be the best talent we have produced from our academy since then, with him first invited to train with the senior team as a 17-year-old earlier this year. The NUFC hierarchy obviously rate him highly too, as they handed him a new long-term contract at the start of this month to pin him down until 2024.
My message to Steve Bruce is this: give the lad a chance. We have to show those in our academy that if you consistently produce the goods for the U23’s then you will be rewarded with an opportunity in the first team. We need to create a clear pathway for our youngsters to not only incentivise them, but to show them that hard work pays off.
I also have a message for Anderson himself. Do not hesitate to do whatever it takes to better your professional career. At your age, you need to be competing against professional sides – just like you did against Bolton last night – on a regular basis and if a path to the first team is blocked, then please consider going out on loan to gain some vital experience.
There is some fierce competition ahead of you in the current first-team squad and a loan move away will help you make that next step up. Kelland Watts is in the same boat and he is currently excelling in League One with Plymouth. The current Championship top goalscorer, Adam Armstrong, is a fine example of an academy graduate who took the risk to get first team action and his decision to do so has paid off perfectly.
You are far too talented to remain tucked away in our youth system if you aren’t given the opportunity that you deserve. Think of Dan Barlaser and Jamie Sterry before you. After last night, there is a clamour among the fanbase to see you called up to the senior side – and it is up to Bruce to give you the opportunity.
He gave young Matty his debut just over a year ago and that proved to be a masterstroke on his behalf, as he scored the winning goal against Man United in that famous win. Now, he must do the same to you.
When your time comes, we have complete confidence that you will succeed.
The Toon Army is behind you.