Garang Kuol watches on as Newcastle United trio endure difficult night in Scottish Cup tie

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It was a challenging night for Magpies trio Garang Kuol, Lucas de Bolle and Dylan Stephenson as Hamilton Academicals and Hearts met in the Scottish Cup fifth round.

It would be safe to suggest Garang Kuol didn’t expect his first competitive match alongside Newcastle United team-mates could have looked like this.

But here he is, just over two months on from his living out a World Cup dream in the baking heat of Qatar, sat among the Hearts substitutes for their Scottish Cup fifth round tie on a chilly night at Hamilton Academical.

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Looking on through the drizzle and mist from the away dugout, Kuol witnessed two other Magpies youngsters enduring a difficult night for the hosts as United academy duo Dylan Stephenson and Lucas de Bolle continue to gain valuable game-time at New Douglas Park. Both members the Magpies Under-21 squad have embarked on the first loan moves of their fledging careers with the Scottish Championship club and nights like this will prove invaluable for their education.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Hamilton have shown signs of life with just one defeat in their last six games in all competitions but they remain three points adrift at the bottom of the table. By contrast, their visitors lie in contention for a return to European competition and are leading the chasing pack behind the Old Firm giants, Celtic and Rangers.

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The opening half-hour hinted at a gulf in class and confidence as Hearts dominated possession and territory with Stephen Humphrys guilted of wasted two good opportunities to open the scoring by volleying over the crossbar and finding the arms of hosts goalkeeper Ryan Fulton with a header. It was third-time lucky for Humphrys just before the half-hour mark was passed as the on-loan Wigan Athletic striker crashed a low drive across Fulton and into his net to give his side the lead their lively performance deserved.

There had been fleeting glimpses of Stephenson and De Bolle as they had to focus on discipline and defensive work, rather than providing a creative spark their side so desperately needed to ease the pressure placed upon them by Robbie Neilson’s men.

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Action was needed and both Magpies youngsters were involved in a tactical shift as the closing stages of the half were reached with Stephenson moved to a right wing position after starting the game in a strike partnership alongside Jean-Pierre Tiehi. De Bolle - a Scotland Under-21 international - had been their lead support in a number ten role but he was dropped deeper into midfield as his side desperately tried to turn the tide.

The changes prompted a small improvement, with De Bolle’s persistence and tenacity in midfield allowing him to instigate a move that ended with Tiehi curling a shot wide of the far post from just outside of the visitors area.

With United assistant loan manager Peter Ramage watching on from the stands, another promising moment just before the interval involved both young Magpies as they swapped passes to create space in centre midfield and set up what looked like a promising - and rare - attacking for their side - only for De Bolle to misplace a pass to left-back Matthew Shiels as he broke forward.

Half-time brought a rare sighting of Kuol. As his fellow Magpies made their way to the home dressing room, the Australian international made his way on to the pitch to warm up alongside his Hearts team-mates.

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It was the closest he would get to any involvement in the tie as he remained on the bench for the entire second-half. Stephenson’s night would be over just six minutes into the second-half as he quest to add to his one goal and one assist in three appearance was ended when Accies manager John Rankin brought on Chris McGinn in his place.

De Bolle was the only one of the Magpies trio that was on the pitch when the full-time whistle was blown. But in reality the tie had long been over by that point after Hearts substitute Cameron Devlin doubled his side’s lead and secured their place in the quarter-final.

To De Bolle’s credit, he consistently showed a willingness to get on the ball and tried to make something happen before Devlin’s goal killed off Hamilton’s hopes of mounting what always felt like an unlikely comeback.

Garang Kuol (far right) warms up alongside fellow Hearts substitutes at half-time in their Scottish Cup Fifth Round tie at Hamilton Academical.Garang Kuol (far right) warms up alongside fellow Hearts substitutes at half-time in their Scottish Cup Fifth Round tie at Hamilton Academical.
Garang Kuol (far right) warms up alongside fellow Hearts substitutes at half-time in their Scottish Cup Fifth Round tie at Hamilton Academical. | NewcastleWorld

Both he and Stephenson will hope to continue adding to their senior minutes as they spend the remainder of the season trying to help the Accies preserve their Championship status. First loans are meant to be tough. A chance to show character, drive and ability in adversity in the hope of impressing key individuals at their parent club. Nights like this are key in their development and should be viewed as a key moment in a drastic learning curve. The same can be said of their fellow young Magpies in the visitors squad.

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Many will question the decision to send Kuol to Hearts if he has remained an unused substitute in a cup tie that seemed a good opportunity to shine. But the 18-year-old has featured in four of five Hearts fixtures since making a loan switch to Tyneside. The odd game out came with an illness.

The impact of this loan will be judged at the end of the season when he returns to Newcastle looking to make an impact among United’s senior men, not after one unused substitute appearance in a cup tie when his temporary employers were strong favourites to progress.

There is genuine enthusiasm and excitement about Kuol within the United hierarchy and the suggestion at Hearts is that he has settled well - but there is also an understanding that, despite all of the acclaim he has received and his fleeting World Cup appearances, he remains a young man finding his way in a new country after arriving with fewer than 30 senior appearances under his belt.

Patience, time and understanding is needed.

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