The next big things and the players to look for
No other club in the country quite has the same association with its strikers as Newcastle United – especially when it comes to those front-men who hail from the North East.
The emergence of Andy Carroll restored much hope among The Toon faithful, after the Gateshead boy graduated from the youth team to claim Alan Shearer's iconic No.9 shirt. Carroll may have since moved on to Liverpool, but he has blazed a trial for the next promising Geordie prospect to break through.
On early evidence, 19-year-old Phil Airey has everything in his locker to follow in Carroll's footsteps. Airey joined Newcastle aged 10 and moved quickly through the ranks, featuring in a number of positions. A tough, strong and committed right-back, he took those same qualities to a new role up front and was an instant hit.
In his first season in the Under-18s, the Northumberland-born prospect grabbed three goals in five appearances. Although Airey continued to occasionally feature in defence, his stock as a front-man was continuing to rise. In 2009 he won the Player of the Tournament award at the Foca Cup, where he scored two goals in the final as Newcastle beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-2.
He missed part of the 2008/2009 season through injury, but really showed his class last year, scoring eight goals in nine games for the reserves. Airey then continued his good form this term, and even earned his first-team debut as a substitute in FA Cup Third Round defeat at Stevenage.
Despite looking bright in his short time, he hasn't featured in the first team since, although he impressed the watching Alan Pardew when he cropped up for a 90th-minute winner against Arsenal reserves in early March and is certainly in the picture at Newcastle.
If Magpies fans are expecting another barnstorming striker in the mould of Carroll or Shearer, they'll disappointed. He may boast the same power and work ethic of the aforementioned duo, but his game is based more on playing on the shoulder of the defenders and feeding off scraps in the penalty area.
Even so, it's good news for Newcastle fans that despite having the Carroll money to spend this summer, their academy's production line in promising forwards shows no sign of slowing down, with Airey leading the charge to be the club's next great No.9.
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