After a week’s break from competitive action, Southampton resume their Barclays Under-18 Premier League play-off campaign at home to Stoke City on Saturday.
Anthony Limbrick’s side entertained Millwall in a friendly last weekend, as the Under-18 coach sought to keep his squad on their toes.
And, after blooding a number of Under-16 players alongside some of the fringe players in his own squad in the 1-0 win over the Lions, he is anticipating another stern test from the Potters, who currently sit in third place, just one point ahead of Saints in the Group Three table, this weekend.
“It’ll be a tough game I think. They’ve had some decent results and, probably similar to us, with three games to go looking to kick on and try and get up the top, probably in that top two positions which is what we’re going to do, so it is a big game in terms of league position,” He told Southampton’s official YouTube channel.
“If we can perform to our maximum like we have done in the first couple of games against Newcastle and Norwich, it’ll give us a chance and hopefully climb that table."
It’s been a memorable week for Southampton’s academy, with Martin Hunter’s Development Squad lifting the Under-21 Premier League Cup at St Mary’s on Monday night.
Some of the club's Under-18s, including Will Wood, Josh Sims, Josh Debayo, Callum Slattery and Marcus Barnes, made the squad for the final victory over Blackburn Rovers, and Limbrick said that was reflective of the hard work that goes on at all levels at the club.
“It is great for them. Will Wood did really well on the night, starting left-sided centre-back and I was pleased for him. Josh Sims came on and obviously Marcus Barnes was involved as well, and it’s just for the whole club really. It’s a big team effort here,” he explained.
“It’s easy just to say that the coaches put the players on the pitch, but to get those Under-18s into the 21s, it’s a massive effort from the education people, to the strength and conditioning, to the medical, to the liaison staff – everyone at the club has an input in those players, whether they’re 21s or 18s.
“To see some of the young ones as well, with Callum Slattery being on the bench, is a great achievement for all the staff and the team effort really that we have here at the club.”
One of those players, leading scorer Marcus Barnes, picked up a medal at the start of this week despite not making the bench.
As he goes in search of his 14th goal of the season, and his third in successive matches, Barnes - who recovered from a mid-season dip in form to net against Norwich and Blackburn - credited his coach for helping him get back on the goal trail.
“As a striker I want to score every week, so I’m going to try to keep pushing and reach a goal for the end of the season, so I’ve just got to keep trying really.
“When you re-find your form, you feel like you can do anything really. You feel like you can run more than everyone else, do things that you wouldn’t usually do when you’re low on confidence and not scoring, so it’s good that Ant’s helped me get back on form and it’s just good to get scoring really.
“When I start scoring, I don’t stop for a long time, so hopefully can carry that on until the end of the season.”
“I’ve been pleased with his (Barnes’) form recently and with his performances,” said Limbrick ahead of the visit of John Perkins’ youngsters, for whom ex-Saint Josh Williams could feature.
“He’s been doing it a lot more in terms of his link play, in terms of his pressing from the front, and that’s resulted in goals as well, so hopefully he can get back on the scoresheet this weekend.
“He’s a bright lad in terms of he understands his performances and evaluates himself regularly, so he got his head down and worked hard and put in better performances, which was the key I think – if he’s performing well then the goals will naturally come.”