What sets Southampton apart from other clubs these days is their investment in youth.
Enough has been said about it now and it is common knowledge that the Saints Academy is the best in Britain, and has been for some years.
Often people will point out though that the Southampton youth sides don’t win anything ‘so can’t be that good’, but in comparison to the youth teams of say Chelsea or Manchester City, the coaching staff of the Southampton Under 21’s are constantly losing their best players to the first team.
In last night’s Under 21 Premier League Cup final that was evident as Southampton faced off against Blackburn Rovers with nine players who have represented the senior side at some point either in this season or last.
Paulo Gazzaniga, Jason McCarthy, Matt Targett, Dominic Gape, Harrison Reed, Sam…
It’s not often I get to see Saints’ Under 21’s in action, so I was delighted to see that they were playing Leicester City in nearby Nuneaton tonight.
It was bitterly cold at Nuneaton Town’s Liberty Way stadium as the likes of Town manager Liam Daish, Coventry City boss Stephen Pressley, Houston Dynamo forward Giles Barnes (brother of Saints sub Marcus), some important looking chaps from Hull City, a plethora of serious looking men with notepads and pencils and what looked like Vincent Pericard, or maybe Lennox Lewis took their seats for this Under 21 Premier League encounter.
It was a bright start by both sides, with the styles of both immediately recognisable. Saints named a side lacking in first team experience and were clearly focused on team play, while their hosts side included Nick Powell, Marc Albrighton and Anthony Knockaert who all have plenty of games at the highest level under their belt. Powell and Knockaert were the focus of all their play and clearly the dangermen from the word go.
Saints took the lead though, through a brilliant individual effort from Josh Sims, weaving his way through the Foxes defence before hitting a fine curling finish. Powell then showed his influence, bigger in both reputation and physical stature he imposed himself on the much smaller Saints midfield and was pulling the strings, scoring twice along the way to give the home side a deserved lead.
Had it not been for some impressive stops from Paolo Gazzaniga the scoreline could have been less comfortable for the visitors, and they came out for the second half with a new impetus. Ryan Seager looked sharp every time he got into the box and it was his he that got Saints back in it.
Anthony Knockaert was causing all sorts of problems on the left, and showed just how ready he is for the Premier League by going down under minimal to no contact, and crying to the referee every time something didn’t go his way. If that was annoying me enough, his celebration after putting the Foxes back in front, more suited to a Wembley cup final than in front of 100 people in the reserves upped it somewhat before his horror challenge on Bevis Mugabi put it at peak level.
It was nice to see some refereeing consistency though as the man in the middle consistently didn’t punish some hefty over the top tackles from both sides, Knockaert perhaps helped by Mugabi’s lack of fuss.
Saints pushed for a second equaliser and went close several times, before Seager again showed why his name is being suggested for first team football with a tidy finish to snatch a point at the death.
All in all an enjoyable evening, and a great end to end game. Powell was the difference for much of the game, and Leicester undoubtedly created more chances, but Saints play was slicker than their opponents at times and they deserved to get back in it.
I was particularly impressed by Jason McCarthy who showed why he is captain with his constant talking and organising, Josh Debayo who marshalled the Leicester right winger expertly, and with an air of calm that almost made it look nonchalant, Josh Sims, whose skill was clear but sadly had to be replaced early on, Omar Rowe who has unbelievable pace and was a constant menace to the Foxes defence (and the referee who booked him for dissent after several tirades) and Ryan Seager who is a goalscorer, simple as that!
Leicester U21s: Adam Smith, Alie Sesay, Kieran Kennedy, Callum Elder, Jack Barmby, Jak McCourt, Nick Powell, Anthony Knockaert, Marc Albrighton, Joe Dodoo (Joe Davis 77), Tom Hopper (c).
Unused substitutes: John Maddison (GK), Kris Scott, Harry Panayiotou, Simonas Stankevicius.
Goals: Powell (33, 38), Knockaert (75)
Saints U21s: Paulo Gazzaniga, Jake Flannigan, Bevis Mugabi, Jason McCarthy (c), Josh Debayo, Dominic Gape, Armani Little (Niall Mason 46), Josh Sims (Harley Willard 27), Omar Rowe, Sam McQueen, Ryan Seager.
Unused substitutes: Will Britt (GK), Marcus Barnes, Ollie Cook
Goals: Sims (14), Seager (61, 90)
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