U18 PREVIEW: Southampton vs Aston Villa

By SFC Media time Fri 30 Oct Club

Southampton will aim to make it four games unbeaten in the Barclays Under-18 Premier League when they host Aston Villa at Staplewood tomorrow.

Craig Fleming’s side followed up their 3-3 draw with Brighton and 4-1 victory over Arsenal with a 2-2 deadlock away to Norwich last weekend.

Fleming has been encouraged by what he has seen in recent weeks and hopes the improvement continues against Villa, who beat Saints 2-1 at Bodymoor Heath in the first game of the campaign.

"Like I said all through the season, the results are important, but it's not the be all and end all,” he said. “It's the performances really that we've put most on throughout the season.

“We weren't very clinical [against Norwich], but when we look at the start of the season there's big improvements, massive improvements, from the boys.

“It’s just trying to find that consistency. We saw it at Arsenal when all throughout the season the boys on the ball, in possession, are very, very good. They're as good as I've seen, to be honest with you.

“Off the ball, we're not so great and we need to work at that, so it's just finding that consistency throughout the whole game, and once we do that they are a real handful.”

Fleming is expecting a tough test against Villa this weekend, but it is one he believes will provide a good benchmark for his side.

“They play a very different style to most teams in the academy set-up,” he said. “They are very direct, very physical, very high pressure - almost a throwback really to probably when I played.

“It's a good test for the boys. When we played them in the first game of the season we struggled with it.

“We lost 2-1 and the boys couldn't cope with it, so it will be a good measure to see how far we've come and can we cope with that kind of football?”

Fleming was also delighted to see a number of his charges earn valuable experience by featuring for the Under-21 team in Monday’s 2-0 home defeat to Everton.

Stuart Wilkin, 17, made his debut for the side, while fellow second-year scholars Harley Willard and Ollie Cook also started, with Olufela Olomola impressing off the bench and first-year scholar Tyreke Johnson also having an impact as a sub.

"I was made up, to be honest with you,” said Fleming. “It's fantastic for them.

“Tyreke's 16 and I thought he did very well. Stu, Harley, Cooky who's played there a few times, and Olufela came off the bench - it's fantastic for the boys.”

For winger Johnson, who has scored two goals in his last three appearances for the 18s, making the step up to under-21 level was a big moment.

"It was a brilliant experience,” he said. “I played quite well at Norwich, so luckily I got my chance to play for the 21s.”

Johnson is in optimistic mood ahead of tomorrow’s contest with Villa.

"We're feeling quite confident, because obviously we got a good win [against Arsenal] - probably our best performance of the season arguably - and we tried to take it into Norwich. It wasn't the best result, but we got a point on the board.”

On the challenge he is expecting from Villa, Johnson added: "At the start of the season they were tough.

“It was our first game, so we were just getting used to it, but I think we will give them a good game and hopefully get three points.”

With Johnson due to turn 17 on Tuesday, a win would certainly be a good way to mark the occasion.

"It would be a great early birthday present,” he said.

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