With the Barclays Under-18 Premier League season having just come to an end, saintsfc.co.uk sat down with Southampton coach Anthony Limbrick to discuss his side’s campaign and the upcoming play-offs.
Despite some impressive patches of form, Saints finished in the lower third of the southern section table and endured a less than ideal opening to the season, losing five of their first six league games before a draw at Arsenal in October sparked a turnaround in fortunes.
“We had a good pre-season, where we really worked hard,” explained Limbrick. “We went to Newcastle with the Under-21s and then we went to Spain so we had a good pre-season, but I think it took a while for the players to take on board messages from the coaching staff and put them into practice.
“We were playing well in little bits and periods of games, but not putting a full 90 minutes together. For instance, against Chelsea we played really well but conceded some goals late on.
“Probably not a turning point, but a game where we played quite well and kept a clean sheet was Arsenal, where we drew 0-0 and they were top of the table at that point, so that was a good start for us to get a basis and progress from there.
“I think if we were in the northern section we’d probably be in that middle section rather than that bottom one, so the points haven’t been that favourable to us in that league but regardless of that, we want to show that we can go and compete in the play-offs and we want to play against the northern teams that you don’t get to play against that often – your Newcastles, your Boltons, Stoke if they’re in that league.
“It’ll be good to play different teams, different styles, try and compete with it and learn how to adapt to different ways of playing football.”
One of the highlights of the last few months has been Southampton’s FA Youth Cup run, which saw them beat West Ham and Everton before losing to Leicester City at St Mary’s.
Limbrick reckons that the number of players who have made the step up from his Under-18 side to Martin Hunter’s Under-21s, some on the back of their performances in the memorable cup run, is evidence of the continuing faith being placed in youth by the club.
“We had a great cup run when you look at it,” said Limbrick. “The two teams that we played were very good Category One academy sides, and both would expect to get a long way in the tournament, especially Everton. But to win in the first game against West Ham at home and then beat Everton away – who were a very good side, probably the best team we’ve played this season – was a really good achievement for the players.
“There’s been some of the first and second years who’ve stepped up to the Under-21s – Ollie Cook, Harley Willard, Armani Little, Oloufela Olomola, Marcus Barnes has come on as well, Josh Debayo, Niall Mason, Josh Sims – so there’s a fair few who have come through and played with 21s and got their chance.
“They will get the opportunity at this club, which is good, so we need to make sure that we’re looking after them and pushing them in the right direction.”