Aaron O'Driscoll, Ben Rowthorn and Jake Vokins preview the FA Youth Cup clash with Manchester United
Southampton Under-18s will travel north on Monday night to take on their Manchester United counterparts in the FA Youth Cup.
In what is often billed as one the highlights of the academy calendar, Saints have landed themselves a plumb tie at Old Trafford to get their campaign under way.
The venue may be somewhat different to the usual setting for an Under-18s fixture, but captain Aaron O’Driscoll is keen to ensure that everything else remains the same.
“The tie sort of speaks for itself,” he begins.
“To play away at Old Trafford is probably the best tie we could have asked for, and we all believe we can go there and win.
“Flem [Craig Fleming] has been saying to us in the build-up that we want to keep the game and preparation as normal as possible.
“We don’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves. We just want to keep calm, enjoy a normal week of training and do what we usually do.”
Fellow second year Ben Rowthorn shares O’Driscoll’s level-headed approach to the match.
And the midfielder believes playing at St Mary’s in the Checkatrade Trophy win over Crawley Town will stand many of the lads in good stead.
WE ARE ALL LOOKING FORWARD TO IT. To play at one of the best stadiums in the world will be fantastic.bEN ROWTHORN
sOUTHAMPTON UNDER-18S MIDFIELDER
“Most of the boys have played in big games before,” Rowthorn starts.
“So I don’t think anyone will crumble with the occasion. We are all looking forward to it. To play at one of the best stadiums in the world will be fantastic.
“Most of us first heard about the draw through our Whatsapp group and we were all buzzing! We all have the belief that we can go there and win.”
One of the youngest members in that Whatsapp group is 16-year-old Jake Vokins.
The left-back has impressed during his time with the Under-18s and 23s this term, and now wants to seize the opportunity to progress in this competition.
“We need to make the most of it,” says Vokins.
“We’ve also got to make sure that we enjoy it because the opportunity to play in this competition doesn’t come around very often.
“Of course it will be a brilliant experience, but we need to treat it just like any other game. We will be going there to try our best and go for the win.
“We are a very strong group. We showed that at the start of the season, so if we can play in our normal way then we know we will do well.”
Whilst Vokins is very much at the start of his youth development, this will be the last year that O’Driscoll and Rowthorn can compete in the FA Youth Cup.
And the tough-tacking Rowthorn is keen to leave his mark on the prestigious competition.
“Every game is big for us, but obviously with the FA Youth Cup –you only play it once or twice in your career,” explained the 18-year-old.
“For me and Aaron, as second years, this will be the last time that we will play in it, so we want it to be a special one.
“We want to go as far as we can. Individually and as a team it’s a massive stage to go out and show what we can do.”
Vokins is a prime example of a player that has made the most of the opportunity to perform on the FA Youth Cup stage.
The young defender made his Under-18s debut in the competition last term, and has since, despite his age, pushed on to be involved in the Under-23s set up.
“This club is very good at giving young players opportunities that not many others will,” Vokins continues.
“For me, playing in the FA Youth Cup last year is a great example of that. Since that point I’ve had so many more chances to move on and progress.
“I’ve grown massively in the last year – that game and the opportunities since have really helped me to develop.”
Irish defender O’Driscoll will return to Manchester for the game, having spent four years with Manchester City before signing for Saints in the summer.
And he is keen to leave having given a shining example of what the Southampton academy is all about.
“There is a long list of players that have come through at Southampton, so we have high standards at this club.Aaron o'driscoll
southampton under-18s captain
“Everyone is here to replicate the likes of your Gareth Bales and James Ward-Prowses,” continues the captain.
“There is a long list of all of these players that have come through at Southampton, so we have high standards at this club.
“It’s down to us to make sure that we reach those and, hopefully, do even better - that’s our responsibility on Monday night.”