Jason Dodd was thrilled with how Saints thrived in front of thousands of supporters as they eased to a stunning 7-0 victory over Portsmouth in The FA Youth Cup.
The youngsters cruised to an emphatic win over their local rivals in the Third Round of the competition in front of 3,814 fans and the U18s coach simply couldn’t find any fault with what he felt was the greatest performance by the side that he’s ever seen.
Dodd conceded that he harboured minor concerns over whether some of the inexperienced youngsters would be able to replicate training-ground work on such a stage but any fears were quickly dashed – with the help of some mature displays from Development Squad players such as hat-trick hero Sam Gallagher.
The former full-back gleefully told Saints Player: “[It was] for me and Paul Williams probably the best performance we’ve ever had. We were clinical. Some of the play tonight was just fantastic. It was pleasing that people were able to see it because the lads have been doing it regularly on the training ground but not transferring it on matchdays. I was really pleased for the players tonight.
“That was the thing that we were worried about, coming to the stadium. We’re used to bringing the lads to the stadium and sitting them in the stands to watch the First Team play, so that’s why were lucky enough yesterday to come to the stadium. The groundsman let us change in their changing room just to get used to the surroundings.
“At Staplewood there might be a hundred-odd people. They’ve got their family and they’re looking to impress and they’ve struggled a little bit. It’s quite easy now! I think there was a couple of thousand tonight. So if they can do it there, why can’t we do it more consistently on a Saturday? This is what we’ll be challenging our players to do.
“Walking out, we were saying that Portsmouth are obviously going to be in your face, all these things that we’re not used to – so we were a bit unsure about how these lads we’re going to perform. They made it look comfortable just because we moved the ball and played some fantastic stuff.
“We have Norwich on Saturday then hopefully they’ll have a deserved break over the Christmas period.”
Dodd set aside time to lavish praise upon impressive forward Gallagher and said it’s his recent rise to prominence for Saints with displays like these that’s seen him deservedly factor into the thinking of First Team Manager Mauricio Pochettino.
The coach also paid tribute to influential U18s captain Tom Leggett, revealing his belief that the full-back has been one of the stand-out performers for the Youth side in the 2013/14 campaign and that was epitomised by a dominant showing against Pompey.
“You saw by their performances – that’s why they’re in the Under-21s,” Dodd said of Gallagher, Matt Targett and Jake Flannigan. “They perform fantastically. Sam Gallagher is in and around the First Team – that tells you about the strides he’s been making.
“I think he’s put a little message out to the boss just to say that if he wants him (Gallagher) to come on, he’s got goals in him. Earlier in the season Sam wasn’t as clinical, but tonight he put some great goals away.
“He (Pochettino) has been really happy with his (Gallagher’s) progress and he’s been getting in and around the First Team for the last four to six weeks, that’s why Sam’s progressed up to the U21s.
“The manager sees something in him and we’ve noticed it since he came back to training on the pitch yesterday. He’s got the hunger. He’s used to First Team training, which is a lot more intense than what we do. We try and push ours but as you know when you’re training with top Premiership players every day, you will get better and that’s what you’re seeing with Sam.
“That’s just a normal performance for Tom. He’s a steady Eddie, but a very good steady Eddie. He got forward in the first half and we’ve been challenging him about his final third quality. He got an assist to his game.
“For me, he’s probably been one of the best players of the season. He’s got to continue that form to get a contract and to play for Martin [Hunter] in the U21s.”