Saints’ Development Squad are looking to get back to winning ways when they welcome Blackburn Rovers for a Barclays Under-21 Premier League clash at Staplewood tonight (7pm kick-off).
A recent away defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough halted the Under-21s' run of successive victories against Leicester City and Aston Villa. The young Saints will now look to reproduce the form that saw them record those recent back-to-back wins against a side that have only won once this season.
U21 Coach Martin Hunter has revealed that strenuous defensive work has been implemented in training to try and ensure that his side avoid leaking any unnecessary goals when they do battle with Rovers.
Hunter told Saints Player: “In pre-season we defended particularly well. We’ve obviously played seven matches now and the number of goals we’ve conceded is not acceptable, and yet we know we’re pretty good at scoring goals. You’ve got to be good at both ends of the pitch and that’s that we’re trying to do.
“We’ve done a lot of positive defending work this week, both individually and as sort of a back five, and also as a team. So we’re hoping to see a big improvement on Monday evening in that particular aspect of our play.
“We’ve got a method of playing – we want to continue that. We just want to make sure that we’re doing things in terms of our principles that are correct. We’ll find out on Monday.”
Hunter feels that a two-week break from any fixtures has aided the U21s in terms of preparation and building confidence. However, the coach feels that the side must replicate their admirable training style on the pitch if they are to reap the tangible benefits that a league victory would provide.
“I always feel confident,” he added. “I think the players have always had a very concentrated and good attitude. However, that’s all right in training. It’s come three o’clock or seven o’clock at night when there are points involved – that’s when it counts.
“A positive is a lot of extra training and coaching work on the pitches. What you would like is a game a week but unfortunately at the moment that’s not the case. So we’re working very hard in training – we’ll see how effective we’ve been on Monday evening.”
Meanwhile, midfielder Dominic Gape is delighted to be back in contention for the U21s, following a return appearance in the second half of the Saints’ match with Boro.
The youngster endured a period on the sidelines after suffering an injury in pre-season but now he’s targeting a return to full fitness, along with a return to the Development side and beyond.
“It’s a great feeling to be back and outside,” Gape declared. “It’s a bit frustrating to be in the physio [room] but I’m glad that’s behind me now.
“It felt great [to return]. I’m probably not up to the same fitness as where I was before but it’s still a good feeling and it’s nice to get involved with the lads again.
“There’s a good quality of training at the moment. I just need to work hard and hopefully gain fitness, and then make the most of the minutes I get on the field and then work hard with people like Buncey (James Bunce, Athletic Development Manager) off the field to do an extra bit of running to get my fitness back to full.
“There’s a lot of great lads in midfield and all of them work hard so it makes it even harder for me to try and gain my position back.
“We’ve got our culture at our Club – the Southampton Way," continued the 19-year-old. "There’s definitely an opening to get into the First Team and you get the opportunity to train with them. You’ve got to take that opportunity and impress the staff and then get yourself recognized and known – then, hopefully when the opportunity comes, you need to take it with both hands.”