by Nick Lough
FLYING the nest with the burden of being one of Britain’s elite teenage talents, Alex Gilliead has it all to prove during his loan spell at Carlisle United – but he isn’t feeling the pressure one bit as he comes to terms with the rough and tumble of League Two.
“I knew it was going to be physical because there is a lot riding on the matches as it’s three points and I’ve never really been in the situation where those things really matter,” the 19-year-old Newcastle United striker told The FLP.
“There’s a lot more fitness involved. I didn’t think the play was going to be as quick and the standard is better than I expected.
“I thought it was going to be a case of kicking it long all the time but a lot of managers in League Two want to play football and pass the ball about the park.”
Borrowed by the Cumbrians alongside Toon team-mate Macaulay Gillesphey to aid their push towards the play-offs, Gilliead has taken to the division like a duck to water after cementing a starting role in manager Keith Curle’s eleven over the past few weeks.
The England U19 international praised his new boss for the way he has helped the duo settle at their new club, highlighting his calmness and understanding.
Gilliead said: “I love him! He is the perfect manager for me and he’s very funny – he used to play for England and I represent them at youth level so he always cracks the jokes that we are both internationals.
“He is a top manager because he just tells me ‘go express yourself’ and to enjoy the game as I won’t get these opportunities all the time.
“He is good with me and Macaulay because if we do make mistakes he tells us not to worry because everyone makes mistakes.”
The Shotley Bridge-born youngster has brought attacking flair and crafty dribbling to the Cumbrians after recording two goals and two assists from his opening seven league games for the club.
After proving popular amongst the Brunton Park faithful, Gilliead saw his 28-day loan extended for the remainder of the 2015-16 campaign.
“I just want to enjoy playing football and get around 20-30 games under my belt over the season,” he said. “It’s my first move away from Newcastle and it’s a big step up because it’s men’s football.
“I just want to carry on doing well and help the team. Hopefully I can help them get promoted or to the play-offs as I think they’re good enough to do it.”
Gilliead’s also had a taste of the big time as the Cumbrians took Liverpool to a penalty shoot-out in the Capital One Cup.
“Walking out when they were singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ gave me goosebumps, and when it got to the 60th minute and the manager shouted for me to go on I just thought… ‘wow’.
“I thought I was going to be nervous but I was alright. You’re playing against these big names but I wasn’t really star-struck, more like ‘that’s him off the telly!’
“It was hard both physically and mentally and you have to be switched on, but I thought ability-wise I did enough to handle it.
“It was the kind of stage where you have to grow and not shrink away, and the physicality will come with age and experience.”
The teenager has some major decisions to make in his career over the next eight months with his contract at Newcastle expiring in June – but, for now, the boyhood Magpies fan just wants to keep notching up games and goals for his adopted club.