Callum Slattery and Jonathan Afolabi look ahead to their FA Youth Cup tie with Manchester City
Southampton are aiming to continue their FA Youth Cup trail on Thursday night, when they face Manchester City at the Academy Stadium in the fifth round of the competition.
Craig Fleming’s men have already completed two successful missions to the north west during this campaign, beating Manchester United and Wigan Athletic in the two previous rounds.
But on Thursday night they face a Man City side that have not tasted defeat since November 2015, when they were beaten 3-1 by Chelsea in the second leg of last year's FA Youth Cup final.
The young Saints camp are well aware of the challenge they face, but are keen - and ready - to tackle it head on.
“We all know it’s a massive game,” starts 17-year-old Slattery.
“But we are going into it with the same mentality that we would with any other. We need to do the same things that we have done against Man United and Wigan to get through to the next round.
“A few us have played in this competition before and haven’t got to this stage, so it’s a massive achievement for us. For the second years this is their last time playing in it, so we want to go as far as we can - I think this is the year we can do it.”
Towering striker Afolabi shares his team-mate Slattery's confidence.
He believes the juxtaposing styles of the two previous games will give Saints an extra edge heading into Thursday night's encounter.
“We are all buzzing for the game and looking forward to it, especially off the back of the way we beat Wigan,” he continues.
“We are in great form in the FA Youth Cup. We’ve played two games with very different styles. Against United we played tactical football and then at Wigan it was more of a battle and getting on top of your opponents. So we've shown we can do both sides.
“It would mean a lot for this group to go on and get in the quarter-finals now. To go as far as we can would be great for us. We just want to do our best as a group for everyone involved in the club.”
“It’s a massive thing and everyone talks about it at the club,” picks up Slattery.
“Beating Man United at Old Trafford was a big talking point and it gave us spirit to go into the Wigan game and win, hopefully we can take that on into Thursday.
“We knew going into Wigan that it was going to be a different challenge. Flem [Craig Fleming] warned us that we might have to win the ugly way, which we did, and a win is a win in the cup. No matter how you win, you are always going through.
“Obviously we know that City will be a technical team, but we want to play our way. As a team we know we can match that because we can do anything this season.”
The belief around the Southampton camp at the moment is clear to see, and it has manifested itself in the side's ability to come from behind to seal victory.
Both of the previous FA Youth Cup ties have seen Saints turn around 1-0 deficits in their favour, and they also did the same in their latest league outing away at Norwich City.
“It has shown that we have great character and belief in ourselves,” Afolabi explains.
“We believe that we can go out into any game and get a result against teams. Hopefully this is something we can use in our armoury against City.
“We just want to go out and play to the best of our abilities, not leave anything on the pitch and hopefully end up on the right side of the result.”
The FA Youth Cup has had a profound impact on midfielder Slattery's career.
And although this year is his third taste of the prestigious competition, he still recalls marking his FA Youth Cup bow with a screamer at St Mary’s.
“My first one was when I was 15,” he smiles.
“I scored a goal against West Ham during a win in the first round. Something like that gives you confidence and allows you to kick on. It gives you a boost and an extra edge to your confidence to go and perform well.
“Obviously the FA Youth Cup is a big thing in itself, so to go into the further rounds is massive for the club. It's something that we all look towards each season.
“It’d be the first time in a few years that we’ve reached the stage so it would be a huge talking point and would be great confidence wise for all of us."
One man that is full of confidence at the moment is Republic of Ireland youngster Afolabi.
With three goals in as many games – including netting against Arsenal when playing up for the Under-23s last week – the 17-year-old believes he is hitting his best run of form in a Saints shirt.
“It’s been great since the first goal,” Afolabi explains.
“It just gives me a lot of confidence and luckily I’ve got three in three. Hopefully I can use that to push on now, starting with the game against City.
“It’s good to be back amongst the goals. The start of the season was shaky period for me but it’s just nice to settle in now and be scoring again."