Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has warned his players few of them can count on their place in his team after his understudies took centre-stage.
The 53-year-old was unable to call upon senior men Mike Williamson, Cheick Tiote and Papiss Cisse because of injury for the Barclays Premier League trip to Tottenham last Sunday and Wednesday night’s Capital One Cup visit to Manchester City, for which he also chose to rest the likes of Tim Krul, Steven Taylor and Yoan Gouffran.
However, young striker Ayoze Perez rose to the challenge at White Hart Lane and youngsters Rolando Aarons and Adam Armstrong, as well as Ryan Taylor – playing his first game after 26 months on the sidelines – did the same at the Etihad Stadium to secure two famous victories and convince Pardew of the depth of his squad.
The Magpies face Liverpool at St James’ Park on Saturday brimming with confidence after winning their last three games in all competitions, and with the manager believing he now has genuine options.
Pardew said: “When you pay a lot of money for players, the CV and the reputation and what they have done goes before them, to a degree, [Remy] Cabella and Moussa [Sissoko] when he came, Mapou [Yanga-Mbiwa] to a degree.
“But it’s difficult to come from international football. Sometimes there’s an adjustment, and sometimes it works straight away, like [Yohan] Cabaye did.
“I think Cabella is going to take a little bit of time, so therefore it is nice to have the option of one or two of those younger players because in my mind, I put the CVs in the drawer and I then now go out on to the training pitch and treat everybody the same – otherwise I shouldn’t be in this job – and I try to do that.
“Of course, I will take favour with players I know have the experience and have done it, the [Fabricio] Coloccinis, the Cheick Tiotes of this world. They will get a slightly more advantageous position when they have a poor game.
“But the rest of them are very much trying to find the shirt.”
Aarons in particular caught the eye against City with a sixth-minute opening goal and a 45-minute performance which reminded the black and white faithful of what they saw in pre-season and beyond before the 18-year-old picked up a hamstring injury.
Pardew admits the Jamaican-born youngster still has much to learn, but he is well aware of the talent he may have on his hands.
He said: “He has a massive asset, which is pace. I saw that [Everton defender Phil] Jagielka is apparently the quickest in the Premier League. Well, I would bet Rolando and Gabriel Obertan against him any day of the week.
“He also has a nice temperament, I think he is a good person. I think he had some troubles at Bristol City, but I really like him as a person.
“He has got his feet on the ground, he has got tremendous potential and this could be a breakthrough season for him. It could be, but he has still got a bit to go yet. He’s ready to go now.”
Aarons is one of a series of young players to have worked their way into the first-team squad this season with summer arrival Perez, 17-year-old Armstrong and belatedly, Sammy Ameobi starting to make a regular impact.
Pardew said: “Now without a shadow of a doubt – and I felt this even before we had these results – this is the strongest group I have had since I have been here.”
Tiote, who has a calf problem, will be missing once again against Liverpool, but Cisse has a chance, although medics are monitoring him after the screws used to repair his broken kneecap caused a reaction they are hoping will settle down.