Jason Dodd feels Saints Under-18s’ midweek friendly with Exeter City provided him with another ideal perspective on his squad ahead of Saturday’s match with Aston Villa.
The 3-2 victory over the Grecians proved to be a positive exercise that allowed the coach to cast his eye over players that have either enjoyed less game-time or are representing the Under-16s.
While Dodd maintains there is still plenty of room for development in those that were fielded against Exeter, he confirmed they will be fighting to break into the starting line-up against Villa on Saturday at Staplewood – kick-off at 11am.
“The friendly against Exeter was exactly what we were looking for,” the U18 boss insisted to saintsfc.co.uk. “We knew Exeter would come and play as well – which suits us down to the ground. In the first-half – in patches – we played some decent stuff.
“We conceded two goals from set-plays and we went through set-pieces with the boys that morning. The disappointing thing is that they didn’t learn from something that we worked on two hours beforehand – they were poor goals.
“The game told us that the lads are fit and strong. We came back and scored late goals, which was pleasing, but the problem is the understanding at times. Some of them are struggling to understand the way we play.
“A lot of the boys that played in the friendly were playing because they haven’t been producing enough, so this was an opportunity for them to show us what they can do and force their way into the side.
“Some came out with some good performances but some showed that we’ve got quite a long way to nail down what we want to do.
“This is why the game was great to have. We understand now where we’ve got to work at and what has to be done because some of us just need a little bit more.
“There’s a chance for players to fight for places ahead of Saturday. It’s up for certain lads to grab opportunities and get themselves in contention. Depending on the U21 match against Spurs on Friday, I may have Jake Hesketh and Ryan Seager available for selection.”
One of the players that has forced his way into Dodd’s thinking is Colm Deasy, a player that epitmosises the coach’s view on the first-year scholars in his squad.
While the Irishman’s friendly display mostly impressed Dodd, the former Saints full-back is eager for Deasy to sharpen his understanding of the right-back role so he can progress swiftly at a very young age.
Dodd assessed: “In patches Colm Deasy did some very good things but it’s his understanding that he’s got to nail down. That’s what we’re here to do – we’re here to help these players so they can step up to the mark.
“I thought in the first half Colm did very well. In the second half he was a bit more rash and he wasn’t giving as much thought. I’ve asked him to go away and think about his performance like with all the other lads.
“The scholarship is a long-term thing. The quicker the likes of Colm get it all right, the quicker they progress through and become really good players knocking on Martin Hunter’s door.
“They’ve got to learn the system and how we play quickly and then that makes them better players. It’ll get them in Martin’s eyes and then Mauricio Pochettino’s eyes as well.”
Looking ahead to this weekend’s clash with Villa, Dodd confirmed his side won’t mirror the line-up that began in their dramatic 3-3 draw earlier this season with the likes of Josh Sims away on England Under-17 duty.
The coach has challenged any potential replacements to fill voids to the same standard as he looks for a repeat of the stunning spell in the reverse fixture that saw Saints overturn a two-goal lead with three swift strikes.
He concluded: “We have no Josh Sims like last time against Villa because he’s away with England. It just means that people can step up now.
“Villa are a big, physical side. It was a great game last time with three goals each and either side could have nicked it at the end.
“They got beat at the weekend by Chelsea so they’ll be looking to come here and put their last performance to bed with a good performance against us.
“We just need to emphasise what we’re good at and not play into their hands. We’re not the sort of team that go kicking and smashing – we play. If we go out and show how good we are and play then we can get back into a game like we did against Villa earlier on in the season.
“We tried to instill that confidence in them. We’re not trying to take credit for the comeback but we just told the lads to go out and do what they’re good at. If the players – individually and collectively – do what we work at then they’re not a bad side at all.
“Our team will be slightly different from what it was last time, so we’re looking for individuals to step up to the mark this weekend.”