NEWCASTLE’S kids were all right on the night in Accrington – but it took a trio of senior men to secure progress into the third round of the Carling Cup.
Chris Hughton stayed true to his word and swept away all 11 of Sunday’s 6-0 heroes for the trip to Stanley, handing starts to six players under the age of 21 at Accrington’s snug Crown Ground.
While the likes of Kazenga Lualua, Haris Vuckic and Nile Ranger did their ambitions of minutes in the Premier League no harm at all with polished displays, it was left to Ryan Taylor, Peter Lovenkrands and Shola Ameobi to supply the sucker punches which knocked out John Coleman’s League Two battlers.
In the spirit of maintaining the feel-good factor which has enveloped Tyneside following the demolition of Aston Villa, this entertaining victory in a terrific cup tie represented progress of its own.
Last season Newcastle had a tilt at the League Cup with kids and it was derailed in the early stages, exposing the rawness of United’s crop of Academy kids.
Fast forward twelve months and, against admittedly more modest opposition, United’s young guns look much more capable of shouldering the club’s Carling Cup hopes – provided the old stagers weigh in with a goal or two.
It was a good job they were on their mettle because Accrington gave them plenty to think about.
On a warm summer’s night, United walked into a real footballing throwback in this quaint corner of Lancashire.
The locals had knocked up t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Newcastle United – who are they?’ in recognition of their biggest tie since returning to the league, while Stanley fans crowded on to the roof of a nearby house to catch the action.
The incessant chanting from the modest Sophia Khan stand began long before kick-off, a varied and entertaining songbook leaving United in little doubt their hosts would not be going easy on their largely youthful side.
Despite the mock aggression, United were afforded a warm welcome by the self-styled Stanley Ultras at the Crown Ground.
Two banners unfurled shortly before kick off set the tone – one commemorated the great Sir Bobby with the legend ‘Heaven’s Manager,’ while the other said ‘Time for Sorrow’ with a cartoon caricature of Lancashire’s Andy Capp booting a black and white-shirted Magpie into the air.
Stanley mixed it with their Premier League rivals with few worries in the first ten minutes, sharing possession with Newcastle in those tense opening exchanges.
Unsurprisingly given the wholesale changes, the visitors were disjointed moving forward and found it hard to assert their Premier League pedigree on opponents playing in the bottom rung of the ladder.
Red shirts duly snapped into challenges but at least when United’s senior men got the ball, the gulf in class could be discerned.
On eight minutes Newcastle carved out the first opportunity of the contest when Ryan Taylor, who proved a menace throughout with the dead ball, launched a looping long throw that Peter Lovenkrands guided into the arms of Ian Dunbavin from close range.
Taylor also supplied the ammunition for one of United’s better first half moments, swinging a ball into the penalty area for Nile Ranger - roaming on the right of midfield rather than his favoured striker role - to force a goal-line clearance from Andrew Parkinson.
United were on top and a shade after the half hour mark they had the advantage to prove it.
Just to keep the surname in the headlines, the other Taylor in the United squad supplied a terrific opening goal.
Ryan had been the game’s most creative player and when he picked up the ball near the half-way line he produced a moment of inspiration – smacking a rising, angled 20-yard drive past Dunbavin.
That put Newcastle firmly in control, but Stanley’s riposte was stunning, bringing them deservedly level.
Just like United’s moment of magic, Accrington’s equaliser was made in the city of Liverpool.
A forceful Stanley foray into the Newcastle penalty area was only half cleared by Ranger and the ball landed at the feet of former Reds trainee Ray Putterill, who swung a beautiful 25-yard drive past the despairing clutch of Tim Krul.
That saw the two teams depart on parity, with Hughton casting nervous glances at his all-star insurance policy on the substitutes bench.
Those concerns were probably ramped up a notch in the opening seconds of the second period when Sean McConville capitalised on a loose touch from rookie stopper James Tavernier.
The Bradford-born defender seemed to have the ball under control, but gave away a free-kick from which Charlie Barnett flashed a shot just wide of Krul’s right-hand post.
Newcastle needed their experienced professionals to step up and in the nick of time, three of last year’s first teamers combined to restore United’s lead.
Shola Ameobi was the lucky beneficiary from a few yards out but it was actually a neat Ranger flick from a Lovenkrands header which teed him up to put Newcastle back on course for the third round.
They wrapped it up with a third a few minutes later, fine work from the lively Lualua finished off by a hooked Lovenkrands effort after Dunbavin had parried his first effort.
Accrington had played their part though, and in stoppage time Sean Hessey gave United a few nervous moments by rifling home from close range.