Exclusive: Newcastle United loan kid reveals first-team ambitions after taste under Everton’s Rafa Benitez

<p>Lewis Cass of Port Vale in action during the Sky Bet League Two match between Port Vale and Hartlepool United at Vale Park on November 27, 2021 in Burslem, England. </p>

Lewis Cass of Port Vale in action during the Sky Bet League Two match between Port Vale and Hartlepool United at Vale Park on November 27, 2021 in Burslem, England.

Newcastle United youngster Lewis Cass has experienced a number of firsts during the opening four months of his loan spell at Port Vale.

The Magpies defender joined the League Two side on a season-long loan in July after spending last season helping Hartlepool United end their four-year stay in the National League.

Lewis Cass of Hartlepool United celebrates with the trophy following the Vanarama National League Play-Off Final match between Hartlepool United and Torquay United at Ashton Gate on June 20, 2021 in Bristol, England.

Cass was handed a Football League debut when he appeared in the Valiants goalless draw against Tranmere Rovers in the opening week of the campaign and a first start quickly followed in a 1-1 draw at Stevenage.

Cass grabbed his first senior goal in a 5-1 FA Cup first round win against Accrington Stanley earlier this month before featuring live on Sky for the first time against Bradford City seven days later.

The North Shields-born defender racked up a seventeenth appearance of his loan spell with Darrell Clarke’s side when they claimed a 2-0 home win against his former club Hartlepool last weekend.

Cass has spoken exclusively to NewcastleWorld this week and revealed his determination to make the most of another loan spell away from St James’ Park with the hope of one day forcing his way into the first-team squad.

He said: “I’ve settled in well and the lads are playing really well.

“Getting my first start in the Football League was a big moment, so was getting my first goal and I should have had a few more this season to be fair - the manager has let me know that.

“I am learning a lot at this level and I feel I have come on leaps and bounds during the first few months here.

“It’s more physical than the Under-23s, with more duals to win than last year. And it’s a lot quicker and a lot more technical than the National League. You have to be more switched on off the ball and be better in possession too.

“I want to make as many appearances as I can in the Football League and push myself into the thoughts of the first team at Newcastle, hopefully I’ll go back and be around the setup next season.”

Saturday’s reunion with Hartlepool conjured up a number of emotions for Cass.

It was former Pools boss Dave Challinor that handed the youngster a first senior start when he spent last season and he went on to make 38 appearances for the club as they embarked on a successful campaign.

A hamstring injury ruled Cass out of Pools play-off ties against Bromley and Stockport County, as well as their dramatic penalty shoot-out win in the promotion final against Torquay United.

The defender revealed his pride over his achievements during his first season in senior football with a club he will always hold in high regard.

“I still stay in touch with some of the lads at Hartlepool and I loved my time there,” he explained.

“We knew throughout the season we should be in the play-offs at least and we thought we deserved to be promoted.

“I think getting promoted was the best moment of my career, it’s the best I’ve had it so far apart from making the Premier League squad when Rafa Benitez at Newcastle.

Joseph Hungbo of Crystal Palace avoids a challenge from Lewis Cass of Newcastle during the FA Youth Cup Fourth Round match between Crystal Palace and Newcastle United at Selhurst Park on January 19, 2018 in London, England.

“The joy of seeing the players, supporters and staff all celebrating the end of what had been a tough time for them in the National League.

“It’s a club I will always hold close to my heart because they gave me my first opportunity in senior football and I will always appreciate what they did for me.”

Cass confirmed he did have the option of spending a second season on loan at Hartlepool - but took the decision to move out of the North East to help his development ahead of a return to Newcastle.

“I was tempted to stay at Pools and I thought that might happen at one point - especially after those highs of promotion.

“But then you reassess the situation and I thought a change of environment and area would benefit me and help me mature as a player and a person.”