Southampton Under-18s will go in search of their fourth successive win in all competitions when they travel to Fulham on Saturday.
Anthony Limbrick’s side have hit a mid-season purple patch, with league victories over West Ham and Arsenal sandwiching an FA Youth Cup win over Everton last week.
They will now head to Motspur Park to take on the Londoners, who currently sit just one point above them in the Barclays Under-18 Premier League table, and Limbrick believes that the week-long break his side have had since beating Arsenal last weekend will benefit the Saints youngsters.
“It’s been nice to have a few more days to plan and prepare. It was quick and a busy week but a successful week for us, so we’re looking forward to the game on Saturday and then building into the following week after that,” he told Southampton’s official YouTube channel.
“Sometimes when you’re preparing for the games in midweek, you don’t have as many training sessions as you’d like as a coach, so when you do have those seven days before the game you can get a lot more work into the players tactically – technically as well – and it gives them more of an opportunity to learn during the week.”
After being rested for last weekend’s 1-0 win over Arsenal at Staplewood following his penalty shoot-out heroics in the Cup win at Goodison Park just three days earlier, goalkeeper Harry Isted is pushing for a recall in the capital.
However, understudy Jake Hallett has kept back-to-back clean sheets in Southampton’s last two league games and, having produced a stunning late save to help earn the three points against the Gunners last Saturday, is keen to keep his place in the team – at the expense of his friend Isted.
“We’re both good friends,” said Hallett. “We strive to be better than each other and get the number one shirt so it’s good healthy competition at the moment, and hopefully we can keep pushing each other.”
“Now I’ve had my chance in the team I think I’ve done quite well, and I hope to carry it on for future games.
“I didn’t have that much to do against West Ham, but I thought my communication and distribution was quite good. The boys have been playing really, really well and it’s all credit to them really. Against Arsenal I had little a bit more to do, but again it was a great defensive performance and I’m just really proud of the way we’re playing at the moment.”
In the reverse fixture back in October, a Marcus Barnes hat-trick and a Callum Slattery header gave Saints an emphatic 4-0 victory over Fulham at Staplewood, ending a seven-game winless run that began on the opening day of the season.
Kevin Keen’s Cottagers have lost just once in their last four games, though, but that defeat – to Aston Villa in mid-December – was a heavy one, as they lost 7-1 at home.
Under-18s coach Limbrick is expecting a different, sterner test from the hosts when they make the journey to London on Saturday.
“Sometimes with the Under-18 teams you never really know what team you’re going to play against, as a lot of players play up in the 21s as we do here, and that’s the best way to do it if you want to progress the players,” he said.
“However, sometimes teams can change week-to-week in the Under-18 league. I think that they’ve got a new manager now so it’ll be interesting to see how they play, it might be slightly different, and I think they will be a lot tougher especially at home, at their place.”