Lineups, Structure and Play-Styles
Newcastle United U23s
Much like the senior team, Ben Dawson’s side lined up as a 4-2-3-1 when attacking with Sean Longstaff playing off Luke Charman.
In possession, Newcastle moved the ball around quickly at the back, happy to wait until they drew Sunderland’s midfield forward before exploiting gaps further up the pitch. Dan Barlaser, Kelland Watts and Freddie Woodman were all key to Newcastle’s distribution of the ball in their own half. Going forward, long diagonal balls to the flanks from Watts, Barlaser and Sean Longstaff were the preferred method of attack. Tom Allan and Callum Roberts drew the Sunderland full-backs into the middle, with Sterry overlapping on the right into the space left by Sunderland’s Brandon Taylor and Roberts using his pace to latch onto passes played over Denver Hume on the left. The ball was usually put into the box with a hard and low cross, a method which Newcastle scored twice from.
Off the ball, Newcastle resembled more of a 4-4-2 as Longstaff and Charman pressured high up the pitch when Sunderland’s defence had possession. In deeper positions, they retreated into a compact shape that was tough to break down and ensured that Sunderland’s forwards were greatly outnumbered in the box. Owen Bailey was tasked with breaking up play in the midfield while Stefan O’Connor used his strength and athleticism to get on the end of balls over the top. Liam Gibson rarely ventured forward, meaning there were always 3 or more players back in case of a Sunderland break.
Sunderland’s formation was 4-1-4-1 for the majority of the game, with Ethan Robson being the anchor between the midfield and defence.
On the ball, Sunderland were forced into little deliberation at the back but usually transitioned play smoothly into midfield. From there the attacking plan was to play direct passes through the Newcastle defence for Connor Shields (and Benjamin Kimpioka later on) to run onto. Luke Molyneux was their main source of creativity though, usually cutting inside from Sunderland’s right flank and having a shot with his favoured left foot. 2 of Sunderland’s best chances were individually crafted by Molyneux, with the other chance falling to him.
Off the ball, they were much less rigid defensively than their opposition. Tight man marking on Newcastle’s attacking players forced the home side to be clinical with their chances, but it did little to prevent their attacking plan.
The first goal came somewhat against the run of play as Sunderland were enjoying a spell of pressure until giving away a free kick roughly 40 yards out from their own goal. A good delivery was met by a Stefan O’Connor header which beat Max Johnstone but rebounded off the bar, only to then be scrambled in from close range by Newcastle U23s captain Owen Bailey.
It didn’t take long for Newcastle to add their second, as they started dominating the right flank as soon as play resumed. Sean Longstaff found Jamie Sterry twice in an advanced position in the space of 3 minutes: the first resulted in a cross that Luke Charman met and sent over the bar from a tight angle, but the second cross was hard and low to the feet of Callum Roberts who controlled it round his marker and slotted into the bottom left corner with his weaker foot.
The third goal may have been the pick of the bunch. Sean Longstaff played it out wide to Jamie Sterry who chopped inside and backheeled it back to Longstaff to deliver an inch-perfect pass through 3 Sunderland players for Luke Charman to control and tuck home into the bottom right corner.
Goal number 4 saw Callum Roberts cut inside from the right and play a sideways pass to Luke Charman who controlled it just inside the box and nutmegged Max Johnstone at the near post.
The final goal was also a very well worked move started by a sequence of passes from Sean Longstaff, Matty Longstaff, Liam Gibson and Adam Wilson. Gibson sent Wilson away down the left, he beat his man and hit a low ball across goal which Elias Sørensen powered into the roof of the net.
Freddie Woodman – Had very few saves to make, but did a good job coming off his line to stifle attacks. He was often involved in ball retention and looked comfortable in possession and completed all of his short passes.
Jamie Sterry – One of the standout performers. Did his defensive duties well enough and was one of the main attacking outlets. His delivery was good and he was constantly getting into space high up the right-hand side. Registered a good assist for Roberts to make it 2-0 and could have had more.
Stefan O’Connor (off 60′) – Showed his strength and speed well when dealing with balls over the top. Played a crucial role in the first goal as he rose well to head onto the bar. Passed well enough but looked awkward on the ball and allowed Sunderland to have their best chance of the game by not challenging for a ball over him, allowing Connor Shields to get into the box and cross to Luke Molyneux, who missed a golden chance.
Kelland Watts – Solid showing all around. Defended very well but his confidence and composure on the ball were vital to Newcastle’s game plan. Watts was never wasteful with his passing and brought the ball out from the back on several occasions. He also cleared a corner delivery off the line when it had seemingly beat everyone in the box.
Liam Gibson – The only Newcastle player to be really tested by his opposition, Gibson vs Molyneux was a good battle with both getting the better of the other on several occasions. Contributed well to the 5th goal with a good pass that unleashed Adam Wilson.
Owen Bailey (C) – A good captain’s performance. Bailey closed down everything in midfield and showed determination to get to the ball first for his goal. Filled in at centre back after O’Connor was substituted and looked comfortable.
Dan Barlaser – Played well as a deep-lying playmaker. Sprayed passes to the flanks very well and provided defensive support for the backline.
Tom Allan (off 49′) – Had a quiet game before being subbed off. Created little and appeared to have been tasked primarily with drawing Brandon Taylor inside and create space for Sterry to exploit.
Sean Longstaff – The best player on the pitch. Sunderland tried doubling up on him but to no avail, as he glided past opponents under pressure, sometimes two at a time. His passing was brilliant, finding wingers almost always and making the best pass of the night for Charman’s first goal.
Callum Roberts – Showed pace and skill to create problems on both flanks throughout the game. His end product was inconsistent and he should have scored another, but he took his goal well and got a good assist for Charman’s second. Looked better on the right than on the left.
Luke Charman (off 76′) – Spearheaded Newcastle’s attack well by winning aerial duels often and finding space in the final third. Took both goals well and showed good energy to close down Sunderland players when not in possession.
Adam Wilson (on 49′) – Caused havoc when he came on. Clearly has a lot of raw talent as he always looked to run at his marker. Got a great assist for the final goal after beating his man and fizzing a great cross in low.
Matthew Longstaff (on 60′) – Took over from Bailey’s role when he came on. Broke up play effectively and offered more positive passing than the captain.
Elias Sørensen (on 76′) – Took his goal well but had little else to do as Newcastle were closing the game out for the time he was on the field.
Sunderland AFC U23s Honourable Mention – Luke Molyneux
The stand out player in a team that was below their opposition, he gave Gibson a lot of trouble and came close to scoring three times. Had the first and last chances of the game and was a threat in between. Was quickly identified by his side as the key player and everything started going through him in the second half as he consistently showed that he could make things happen by himself.
Newcastle U23s were set up to play more or less identically to the senior side. A conservative play-style that focused on efficiency in attack meant that Newcastle could have potentially won by even more if they had been more direct, but this style made the victory look very comfortable and convincing by being in total control for prolonged periods of the game. This match was not much of a contest, as Sunderland’s usual U23s have mostly been called up to the senior side to compete in the league, while Newcastle were able to field players like Jamie Sterry, Sean Longstaff and Freddie Woodman who would not look out of place starting in a team of Sunderland’s quality, or even perhaps a Championship side. Had Sunderland been able to field some of their younger first team players such as George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch and Donald Love, this would have been a much closer match.