Southampton Under-18s enjoyed something of a run in the FA Youth Cup this season and, as coach Anthony Limbrick says, it’s an experience his youngsters will learn from.
“We had a decent FA Youth Cup run, beating West Ham at home 2-1 which was pleasing in a tough game, and then obviously in a really fairly difficult match against Everton away from home, winning in the penalty shoot-out was really pleasing,” Limbrick told Southampton’s official YouTube channel.
“It was disappointing that we didn’t get through Leicester in a game that we’d probably fancied, but (it was a) really good experience for the players, playing at the stadium, playing against the best teams and dealing with the pressure of that cup competition.
“That’s the idea of the Youth Cup – to be able to deal with those conditions, the extra pressure, the added people coming to watch, playing at the stadiums. We’ve obviously played at the stadium twice, at St Mary’s, which is always good, and then also playing at Goodison Park too, so you have to deal with those variables and if the players want to go and play at the top level, they have to deal with that pressure, so it was a really good learning curve for them.”
Goals from Dan Demkiv and Callum Slattery saw Saints ease past the Hammers in the third round in December before a memorable epic at Goodison Park in the fourth ended with Joe Lea slotting home the winning penalty in the shoot-out after it had ended 1-1 after extra time.
It is perhaps that night on Merseyside, though, that will live longer in the memory than the subsequent 2-0 home defeat to Leicester City in March which meant they failed to make what have been a first quarter-final appearance in a three years.
“They had many players who’d played in the first team there and I think they really fancied their chances to push on, not just past us, but to go far in the tournament and make the semis and the final, and I think possibly, maybe, underestimated us a little bit,” said Limbrick of the Toffees.
“But we did our homework and had a clear gameplan, and within the 90 minutes I think we played quite well and created a couple of chances. In extra-time, it was sort of backs-to-the-wall defending – we had to drop quite deep and really fight for our lives, and we held on for the penalties in the end, but I was really pleased with the players and the character that they showed during that game.
“There was some really good performances,” he continued, “and obviously Harry Isted making the saves in the penalty shoot-out, but some really good defensive displays from all of the back four – Ollie Cook, Kyle Clinton, Will Wood, Josh Debayo did quite well in those games, so it was pleasing that they showed the character, the fight to hang in there and see through to the end.”