Craig Fleming felt that the under-18s’ 2015/16 campaign was one which saw his young group take big strides in both individually and collectively.
The under-18s coach instilled a more resolute side to the team in the second half of the season, while players from younger age groups were also given the chance to impress throughout the campaign.
“I split it into two parts: pre-Christmas and post-Christmas,” he told youtube.com/southamptonfc
“Pre-Christmas from a personal point of view I struggled as I snapped my Achilles at the end of last season and it had a few implications, so it was a struggle and on the pitch we struggled I think to start with as well.
“Post-Christmas it was a massive improvement and I think individually the players improved tremendously, and as a group we improved as well.
“We have a style of play at the football club as we like to play out from the back and ideally through the thirds which comes with risk,” he added. “When the lads are so young and learning the game, it can be a risky way to play but ultimately it’s the right way. Pre-Christmas I think we got caught out as we made a lot of mistakes by trying to play out the right way, and post-Christmas we refined that and got used to it, then the performances followed.”
As a former defender himself, Fleming has worked hard to ensure that side of the game is accounted for, as there’s no questioning the technical skills of his players.
“It’s a running theme from what I’ve seen throughout academy football. On the ball and in possession technically players are very, very good,” he explained.
“I think the art of defending and being hard to beat is not a dying art but it’s one we’ve worked on very hard particularly in the second half of the season which has brought the players through. The young players that have come through like Ollie Cook and Alfie Jones have meant that, as a team, we’ve been much harder to break down.”
A number of scholars have signed professional contracts with the club in the past couple of weeks and Fleming says that young players will continue to push for a way into the senior squad.
“We have a philosophy at the club as well where we try and keep the pathway open to get them up and through as quick as possible,” Fleming highlighted.
“The more experienced ones go into the 21s and some go out on loan to be into the first team and then there’s a bumper effect where our boys move into the21s and blossom. You look at Alfie Jones and Olufela [Olomola] while [Ollie] Cook played a lot of games there too. We took a lot of the first years and under-16s with us this season and that was very pleasing.”