Southampton’s Technical Director Martin Hunter said that the club’s under-21 side had a “testing season” as they earned a sixth place finish in the U21 Premier League.
The under-21s’ campaign in many ways reflected the progress of the first team with a solid start, a difficult middle part, and a strong end to the campaign which has left the squad wanting more as they prepare for the next campaign.
“It’s been a testing season,” Hunter explained. “I think to split the calendar of fixtures into three would explain from my point of view what the season’s been like. We had a good start where we played well and then had a very difficult mid-part of the season where because of the arrangement of the fixtures we didn’t play regularly and we lost quite a few games.
"But then we had a very, very strong finish at the end of the season where we were unbeaten in five – winning four games and drawing one – and that was very satisfying so it was a bit of a mix really.
“We finished really strongly. We had a settled squad and I think the players got used to each other so that was very, very pleasing. Every season is different, so that one’s finished now and we’ll see what next season brings.”
Hunter’s side were challenged by an irregular fixture list, the loss of players to loan moves and injury, but it was in those struggles that the U21 coach thought Saints learned the most.
“I think in adversity sometimes as players they actually learn more than when you’re on a particularly good run,” he said. “We had several injuries and we then started to get players out on loan which was of a great benefit.
"Then the younger players came in which meant that Craig [Fleming]’s team was younger and the under-16s were younger so from that sort of adversity, it gave very good opportunities to quite a few players throughout the age groups to move up a level and start to understand what’s required.”
The Under21 squad was supplemented by a mixture of first team players who need match time and young players who performed well in the younger age groups, and Hunter says that theme will continue into next season who wants to see the team take their strong end to this campaign into the next one.
“The way that the players played and from a defending point of view as a team, with some of the goals that were scored was terrific, so it was a shame to end but that’s what happens.
“We want to start the season as we finished the last one. It’s a new season and when the players come back they’ve got to prove themselves in the pre-season friendlies when they get into the under-21 team it’s about getting yourself a shirt and staying in that shirt.”