Jason Dodd has challenged Saints Under-18s to end 2013 in emphatic fashion with a win over Barclays Under-18 Premier League leaders Fulham.
The coach was disappointed at how a much-changed Youth side suffered a two-nil defeat at the hands of Norwich last weekend and is desperate for the U18s to recapture the form shown in their seven-nil victory over Portsmouth in the FA Youth Cup against Fulham tomorrow – kick-off at midday at Staplewood – to cap off what he feels has been a year of major improvement for the youngsters.
When asked for his assessment on the Norwich loss, Dodd told Saints Player: “‘Poor’ is the word that I would use. We obviously changed the side around a lot from the Portsmouth game. We gave opportunities to players who we thought were going to step up, and they didn’t. We didn’t get the ball down and play.
“I think it’s the first time for quite a while that the opposition had more passes than us, so that’s an area we’ve got to focus on. It just means that we need more work – that’s all it means. They’ve been knocking on our door and asking why they’ve not been playing.
“We gave the lot an opportunity and it just wasn’t as fluid as what we’ve done. We might take some of that fault because we mixed the side around. Everyone knows how we play. Every player knows exactly what job they need to do and we found it really tough at the weekend.
“Fulham are always strong. They’ll come and play, they’ll be big and physical – this is what we want. This is how we’re going to test our players. If they’re going to step up to the Development group, they’re going to be dealing with this all the time. It’ll be a good experience for them.
“We want to finish before we have our Christmas break with a decent performance and then hopefully that performance will get us something out of the game.
“We’ve done really well this year. We know we were going to be young – some of our players are already in the Development group. It’s nothing new, but we feel they’ve all improved.
“They’ve done a lot better than maybe what we thought, but it’s their work. They’ve worked really hard to get the performances. I think the Portsmouth game summed up our first half of the season. We know we’ve got that potential – we’ve just not been seeing it on a regular basis.”
Following the Third Round thrashing of Pompey, Saints were drawn in the next stage against one of Charlton Athletic or Nottingham Forest. Southampton’s next opponents in the competition will be determined tonight when the two sides clash and Dodd knows it will be a huge test either way.
The former Saints full-back revealed that fellow coach Paul Williams will be in attendance this evening to check up on the eventual winners of tonight’s clash and Dodd hopes for a repeat performance of the last time the U18s stepped out onto the St Mary’s turf.
“Paul Williams is going to go up tonight – they’re playing tonight,” he continued. “So we’ll know before the Fulham game [who we’ll be playing]. They’re two tough sides. We played Forest a couple of years ago and they beat us at our place, so we know they’re going to be tough.
“We played a Charlton in a friendly about a month, six weeks ago and we did quite well up there. We know a little bit about them; we’ll know more tonight when ‘Willo’ gets a little report on the game.
“The pleasing thing for us is that it’s a home tie. It gives our players an opportunity again to play at St Mary’s. We were very lucky [to have] 3,000-odd fans [against Pompey], which was fantastic for them. The pleasing thing for them is that we put a show on. It’ll be nice for them (the fans) to come and watch them again.”