JAMES Tavernier senses an opportunity to finally play league football for Newcastle United, having already done so for four other clubs.
The 20-year-old joined the Magpies in the summer of 2009, but so far his only appearances for them have come in the cup competitions.
The versatile defender is well thought of at St James’ Park, however, and played 13 Conference games on loan at Gateshead in the season before last, plus 29 League One appearances in 2011-12 shared between Carlisle United, Sheffield Wednesday and Milton Keynes Dons.
Injuries have left Newcastle without a specialist right-back and only Davide Santon on the left side of defence. Tavernier, who played well in both positions during Wednesday’s 2-1 League Cup defeat at Manchester United, believes the full-back slots offer his best route into Premier League football.
“There’s a lot of games coming up with all the European games, and maybe at the moment my best chances are in the full-back positions,” he said. “But if an opportunity comes at centre-back I’ll take it with both hands.
“I’m hoping for a chance. Every game that comes along – European games, cup games – I’ve got to keep working hard in training to get my chance in them. Hopefully I can get a Premiership start. I’m really working hard at that.
“At left-back I like cutting inside, and I played centre-back in some of the pre-season games when Chris Hughton was here (as manager). At right-back I like attacking and getting forward, but I feel comfortable in all defensive positions.
“I feel like I’m a really versatile player and I really enjoy wherever I play.”
Right-back has been a problem for Newcastle since Danny Simpson joined Ryan Taylor on the injured list. In the last three Premier League games, Newcastle have started with a different player there to the one who finished the match.
Simpson injured his hamstring against Aston Villa, prompting midfielder Vurnon Anita to fill in there. James Perch started the matches against Everton and Norwich City, only to swap positions with Anita during the game. Perch also started there against Maritimo and Manchester United, with Tavernier kicking off the latter game at left-back before switching flanks when the versatile Perch was needed at centre-back.
With the Magpies’ League Cup campaign over 90 minutes after it began this term, the Europa League now offers the best opportunity for those on the fringes of Alan Pardew’s squad to push their claims to be involved in the top flight.
Bradford-born Tavernier thinks playing Continental football will accelerate his development. “This is a great opportunity for me to be involved, and to have so many games is just a great experience of a different kind of football again,” he commented. “This will push me on to become a better player.”
Tavernier is perhaps the best recent example of Newcastle utilising their links with regional clubs to develop a young player. The defender looks back fondly on his many loans.
“They helped me massively,” he said. “When I went to Gateshead the season before last, that was kick-off for me. Since then I went to Carlisle, MK, Sheffield and those loans have really developed me as a player. I’ve learned a lot.
“We were looking for the best clubs to match my football, and coming from Gateshead up to League One, all the clubs I was at really helped me as a player and developed different parts of my game.”
Tavernier has started a solitary League Cup game for Newcastle in each of the last three seasons, and made his Europa League debut away to Atromitos.