Martin Hunter hailed his Under-21s for reaching the Elite Group Stage of the Barclays U21 Premier League – then warned them that the hard work starts here.
Last night’s comprehensive victory over Newcastle United – coupled with Aston Villa’s defeat at Spurs – saw Saints sneak into third place in National Group 2.
That meant Southampton are one of eight sides to progress into the highest-possible division for the Second Group Stage, where they will compete to become the overall champion of this season’s U21 Premier League.
“This was our best performance in this league,” Hunter told Saints Player after goals from Sam Hoskins (two), Ben Reeves (two) and Tadanari Lee secured a comprehensive win at Eastleigh’s Silverlake Stadium.
“The manner of the performance was the most pleasing thing, particularly how we started both halves.
“I was very, very pleased with some of the football on quite a difficult pitch.
“It was a very good team performance – I was pleased with all of the players, including the subs that came on.”
Hunter’s team now join Jason Dodd’s Under-18s in qualifying for their respective Elite Groups this season, with Manchester United the only other club to have achieved that double.
“It’s fantastic to get both of our teams through into the Elite Group because I believe only two clubs have done that,” said Martin. “That’s a really positive step for our Academy.
“We’ll recuperate and get back to training after the Christmas period. I believe the fixtures come out this week and start in the middle of January, so it’s a quick turnaround.
“Now they really will get tested. They’ll play against the best under-21 players in the country, so that’ll be a great challenge for us.
“We’ve got a way of playing and we’ll keep doing it.”