Paul Williams is expecting Saints Under-18s’ squad for Saturday’s game at Wolves to be mixed with a number of younger starlets again.
Reminiscent of how they fielded Joe Lea, Callum Slattery, Richard Bakary and Stuart Wilkin for league debuts last week against Norwich City, the coach confirmed the quartet – among others – will be pushing for more game-time towards the end of the season as Southampton look to continue the process of promoting Youth products.
Williams revealed that Jake Hesketh, who has been so influential for the U18s throughout the 2013/14 campaign, will be focusing on his progression with the Development Squad and has embraced the battle for vacant places within his squad.
“They’re in a transitional period, like ourselves,” the former Saints player said of Wolves to saintsfc.co.uk. “They won’t have some of their second-year scholars like us so they could be pretty light on numbers at the weekend, too.
“The Development Squad have got a game on Monday [against Everton] next week, so they’ll need a full squad that might include some of our players pushing for that team.
“We don’t really see Jake Hesketh as an U18 player anymore. He’s with the Development Squad now, really. Other lads will have an opportunity to come in and play in his position now.
“The good thing about players going up to the Development Squad is that it gives the younger lads and the lads who haven’t been playing the chance to stake a claim for a place in the team.
“Callum, Richard, Stuart and Joe will all get a go again. It’ll be a very similar side again as we look to use these lads for the future. We have confidence in all of our boys.
“It’s our duty to make them the best players they can be for this Club. They’re in here for a reason and that’s because they’re very good players. It’s up to us to get them to show that within our team structure – that’s what’s important.”
The coach admitted it’ll be tough initially for the new faces to become accustomed to the demands of an U18 squad that’s filled with a range of players at different stages in their development, but maintained he will do all in his power as he’s done in recent years to ensure they ease into life under him and Jason Dodd successfully.
Williams continued: “For the lads that are just coming in now, it’s been tough because they’ve not been playing for us all season. They’re starting all over again in a new side for us.
“It’s tough for the lads coming together at that age. Some are at different ranges in their development. Some are progressing really well; some are finding it a little more difficult to take on what’s asked of being a full-time scholar, but it’s our job to help them with that.
“This is the first time in years we’ve had such a diverse group in terms of ability and learning levels. It’s not a concern at all. We’ll just be working as we always to do make sure they can be the best they can possibly be."