Southampton are back in action against Chelsea on Thursday night, ten days on from their memorable Under-21 Premier League Cup final win over Blackburn Rovers at St Mary’s.
Sam Gallagher’s spectacular winner handed Saints the trophy in front of over 12,000 fans at St Mary’s but, after the euphoria of that victory, it’s back to league action this week, with the Blues making the relatively short trip to the south coast.
And Hunter has warned that Adi Viveash’s side, who may feature some of the players that helped the club win the FA Youth Cup this week, have the quality to burst Saints’ bubble going into a testing end-of-season run-in.
“We’re well aware now that this is one of five league games left, and all of them are going to be tough,” Technical Director Hunter told Southampton official YouTube channel.
“I expect it to be a very technical game. I think it’s going to be different to the games against Blackburn. I watched their game last night (against Manchester City in the FA Youth Cup final), they’ve obviously got some very good individual players – their techniques and their skill levels are very high, so we need to be mindful of that and compete against that.”
Chelsea come to St Mary’s sitting just one place ahead of eighth-placed Saints in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League, although they do have a game in hand and are likely to call upon the services of England Under-18 forward Dominic Solanke, winger Tammy Abraham and the second-youngest player in Premier League history, Isaiah Brown – all scorers in Southampton’s 5-3 defeat at Stamford Bridge back in February.
Hunter is adamant he wont allow performance levels to drop following the euphoria of last Monday’s cup win, and insists there is still plenty to play for this season.
“It’s important that the players understand that the season’s not finished, and we’ve got five tough games,” he said. “If they’re going to play at a high level, that’s what they’re going to get – there’ll be no let up in the intensity of the games or the quality of the opposition.
“We can’t afford to be complacent. There’s six points between us and Manchester United at the top, and there’s four points difference between us and second from bottom, so we take nothing for granted.
“We need to be ready. It’s fantastic for the club that we’ve won a cup final, now we’ve got to get back to winning league games.”
Defender Bevis Mugabi – who played the full 120 minutes against Rovers in last week’s 2-1 cup final win – could well line up once more in his new role as right back in the side.
It’s a position, he says, which he’s happy to familiarise himself with.
“At first, it was a bit different, but last few weeks I’ve started to adapt to playing right back, getting forward and supporting Sammy G (Sam Gallagher) playing right wing, so it’s only going to do me the world of good.
“Martin and Radhi (Jaidi) have really helped me the last few weeks, trying to find out my position and where I need to be on the field, covering positions and all of that stuff, so big thanks to them.
“In this day and age, you need to be able to play in more than one position, and me playing right back can only do me the world of good, so I’m really happy.”
“We’ve had numerous injuries, we’ve not had an out and out right back now since Flanny (Jake Flannigan)’s been injured, and Bevis has played there before,” said Hunter of the decision to shift the centre-back – who turns 20 on Friday – out to the right of his four-man backline.
“He’s equipped himself really well, he’s getting better and better and as we’ve said before, if he can play in more than one position, then that helps his cause in terms of when the first team staff are looking at him.”
Tickets are free of charge for Thursday's game, with entry via the Itchen North turnstile.