Newcastle United finished last year’s Premier League campaign on a mere 40 goals, the sixth worst total in the Premier League. Couple that with a defensive record worthy of the bottom three, and it’s no wonder the club had to battle for its top-flight survival all the way to the last day of the season.
Quietly and simultaneously, a West Denton-born 17-year-old was beginning to get chances in and around the first-team after proving prolific for the club’s developmental side and England youth teams.
This season Adam Armstrong has been turning heads in League One during a loan spell with Coventry City. Five goals in his opening three games - including a marvellous 40-yard chip against Millwall last weekend – have got the Geordie faithful wondering if a new local hero is emerging.
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Many home-grown forwards have made their way through the clubs ranks in recent memory with varying degrees of success. Alan Shearer is of course, the most famous name having started as a wide-eyed home-town kid and retired a legend; but even he had to leave the north-east to establish himself elsewhere first.
Shola Ameobi arrived on the scene at the turn of the millennium closely followed by Michael Chopra.
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Shola, whose younger brother Sammy is still contracted to Newcastle, was actually born in Nigeria before moving to Newcastle aged five. Ameobi went on to spend 14 years at St James’ Park scoring 53 goals along the way.
Chopra was born-and-bred on Tyneside. Over four seasons, he gradually edged closer to a first-team berth, especially impressing during loan spells with Watford and Barnsley where he found the net frequently.
Ultimately, Chopra never made the grade at St James’ Park and would move on to Cardiff for £500,000. After one prolific season in Wales, Chopra would return to the north-east in a £5m deal – but with Sunderland.
Adam Campbell is the most recent near miss in the club’s pursuit of a heir to the Shearer throne. Born in North Shields, Campbell won several accolades during his youth team days including Most Valuable Player in the Nike Cup at Old Trafford and Premier Player of the Tournament at the prestigious Milk Cup.
Campbell’s dream of leading the line for his home-town club was ended following his release last summer. He now plies his trade in League Two with Notts County.
So, what chance does Armstrong have of bucking a trend spanning the last 15 years?
Given how football has progressed over the last decade and how 4-3-3 has generally become the conventional formation across the board, there is an onus on the point of the forward three to have some physical presence about them – that works against Armstrong for sure.
Coventry boss Tony Mowbray recently alluded to as much by saying: “He’s playing for a massive club and struggled to get a game, but I would say whoever’s playing for Newcastle must be a hell of a player to keep this kid out of the team. I’ve managed in the Premier League and the defenders are all quick and massive. It’s a different kettle of fish (with him) but we’re delighted to have him here.”
In his favour, however, is his undeniable goal record. From England under 16’s to U18’s Armstrong has scored 21 goals in 27 games. Although he hasn’t managed to score for Newcastle in his 15 cameos to date, obvious time constraints have worked against him. His flying start as a key member of the Coventry side is far more indicative of his powers.
Whilst not electric, Armstrong is certainly quick. He has sharp feet and reactions in tight situations with the brain of a number 10 and the clinical nature of a number nine. Attributes wise, it’s all there for Newcastle to utilise. A lot depends on if Newcastle believe he can handle the often-cited ‘most physically demanding league in the world’.
Size isn’t everything, but goals often are. Its early days at the Ricoh Arena for the goal-hungry loanee, but his start is certainly in keeping with his career thus far.
If Steve McClaren and company can see a way to harness Armstrong’s obvious talents upon his return in January or beyond, the Toon faithful we may yet see a local lad score in front of the Gallowgate End once more.