Alan Pardew believed Newcastle United’s young players were ready to batter down the doors of the first team this time last year.
In truth, they barely tapped on it and not one could moan they didn’t get a fair crack of the whip.
They were given plenty of chances to impress in the Europa League group games and the domestic cup matches, all two of them.
With the exception of Gael Bigirimana, none really looked as if they were close to making the step up, at least not in terms of consistency.
A good performance here and there is not enough for the Premier League.
The January day at Brighton when the Championship side cruised to a FA Cup win which was neither shocking nor undeserved was the end for many in the eyes of the manager.
They started and ended last season as no more than fringe players.
The soft underbelly of the squad, to use Pardew’s own expression, showed no sign of toughening up.
Sammy Ameobi was eventually loaned out to Middlesbrough.
Paul Dummett spent the season with St Mirren, as did Conor Newton, where they won a cup final. Good for them, but no use to Newcastle.
Shane Ferguson started the season well and then ended up at Birmingham City, while Haris Vuckic suffered another dreadful injury, this time a cruciate, in October and his campaign ended there and then.
Even Bigirimana, who could be proud of his first season in the Premier League, faded towards the end – although he gets pass marks.
A few of those mentioned above have just one more chance, which was this pre-season, to impress and make it at Newcastle United.
The club cannot be doing with paying a decent wage to kids who are never going to force their way into the first-team.
The message seems to have got through.
Pardew told The Journal he has been delighted with the condition his young players were in on their return to the club.
Certainly, on the evidence of Tuesday night and the game against Motherwell, Ameobi has taken a tumble to himself while Dummett’s time with St Mirren has transformed him as a footballer.
A coach at the club told me the left-back was “twice the player” who left Tyneside a year ago.
Adam Campbell is highly thought of by all coaching staff and, while he needs to fill out a bit, his potential is there for all to see from the way he treats a football.
It’s encouraging for Pardew. Whether this group can make the next step is entirely up to them, however, at least they have reported for duty in the right frame of mind.
Pardew said: “We want competition for places.
“We saw some flashes at Motherwell of what we hoped we would see in the Europa League.
“That didn’t come, but I thought we looked a lot more promising on that front.
“I was happy with how we played at Motherwell. We showed energy and quality, plus our fitness levels were high.
“It is another year down the line. Sammy looked different to what he was this time last year.
“For these players, now is the time to push on if they can.
“Sammy and Dummett are probably pushing harder than any of the other guys at the moment, which they showed on Tuesday night.
“Dummy is in fact pushing harder than anyone.
“Davide Santon looks good, as does Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who finished last season well. Dummy is right in there with them right now.”
Then there is Vuckic. The 20-year-old Slovenian who once broke a finger when taking a throw-in has just come back from his latest setback.
He managed a goal and 45 minutes at Motherwell when he kept getting into good positions.
Pardew added: “Haris has been so unlucky.
“In the 45 minutes he played on Tuesday night, he couldn’t have shown more quality than he did.
“He has to produce the energy and power the Premier League demands.
“If he can do that, we are going to have a player on our hands.
“The club have spoken about his potential even before I got here.
“In the three years I have been at Newcastle. I’ve never really had the chance to play him.
“When he has been fit, I think he’s just been beneath the best team. He’s had a good start to pre-season.”
A good start: that’s all it’s been in a football sense. We will ignore the Papiss Cisse problem for a moment.
Pardew has been delighted with how training has gone. Everyone has come back in decent shape, even Hatem Ben Arfa who can take a little longer than the rest to get to his fighting weight.
A 4-2 win at Motherwell hardly rocked the world of football to its foundations, but there was a freedom which the team played with that offered plenty of encouragement.
Pardew said: “You can tell the inhibitions, which were there when we struggled, have lifted.
“You could tell there was a bit more looseness about them and the way we played.
“I hope we can build on that. We should do because that was as good as you are ever going to get from a first pre-season game – trust me.”