Martin Hunter has revealed his delight at how impressive the raft of players pushing through Saints' ranks have been as he looks to elevate more youngsters through the academy.
After overseeing the Under-21s’ pre-season training camp in the north-east where a number of Under-18 players put in strong and energetic performances against much more experienced outfits, Hunter has faith in youngsters that he’s looking to hand chances to in higher levels.
Such confidence has been further strengthened from the coaching sessions he’s taken since with certain players while an U18 squad completed a recent pre-season trip to Spain.
“I’ve been impressed with all the players but particularly the other first-year boys that have come in,” the U21 boss told the club’s official YouTube channel. “They’ve adapted very well. They’re very coachable and are hungry to succeed – long may that continue. It puts pressure on other players and that’s very healthy for the football club.
“We’ve had five or six of the second-year boys training with the U21s and it’s the same scenario. We’re trying to push and give opportunities to players as early as possible and it’s down to them.
“Our main aim is to get our best players, no matter what age they are, playing at the highest level that they can do. That will certainly be a feature from U16s, U18s and U21s this year. We will be very young, but the players have that unique opportunity that maybe they don’t get at other clubs.”
The Technical Director also emphasised the importance of Saturday’s final pre-season friendly against QPR in preparation for matches with the finest teams in the land at that level – starting with a welcoming of Fulham less than two weeks from now.
“All the games are important because we’ll be finalising the players’ [preparations],” he continued. “It’ll be a game that a lot of players will be playing 90 minutes in, so it’s a very important game leading into the first league fixture.
“Fitness levels are good, so everybody is raring to go. We’ve got an in-house practice game tomorrow and then all the teams – obviously the first team are down [at St Mary’s] – will be playing on Saturday.
“We’re now in the top of league in terms of the U21s, so we’ll be pitting our wits regularly against the best young U21 players in the country. It’s going to be an exciting time and a very testing time for everybody.
“Now the pitch, the floodlights and the stands are open it’ll make for a good atmosphere. We’ve also got three games at St Mary’s so we’re looking forward to the 18th of this month.”