It’s a lot more fun to win than it is to lose. But whatever happens on Thursday night, it promises to be an occasion the Southampton U18s never forget as well as a crucial building block in their ongoing journey.

“This is gold development for the boys,” U18s Individual Coach Mikey Harris tells the Daily Echo.

“It's very hard in academy football to replicate senior football in terms of the pressure, the crowd, playing in a stadium. Probably the FA Youth Cup is the only real medium for that sort of exposure to those different stimuli. But this, It's at St. Mary's, we're hoping for a really good crowd. 

Daily Echo: Saints U18 Individual Coach Mikey Harris. Image by: SouthamptonSaints U18 Individual Coach Mikey Harris. Image by: Southampton

“On that note, we would absolutely encourage anyone who is available to come down Thursday night to support the boys, because the fans can play a part in their development.

"Genuinely, the more people that are there, the more of a significant moment it becomes for the boys in their journey. So we're really hopeful that we'll have a huge crowd and it will give the boys an experience, regardless of the outcome of the game.”

Free to read, this dive into Southampton's U18s is the kind of unique in-depth coverage Saintsplus will always try to give Saints supporters. Try Saintsplus ​now - free for the first month.

Victory against Manchester City would not only crown the young Saints as National Champions of the U18 Premier League but would also earn Carl Martin and Harris’ side a place in next season’s UEFA Youth League.

That would be a gigantic achievement but been some year for the U18s whatever happens.

After losing back-to-back matches in the autumn, Saints have been beaten just once in the league since the end of October.

In Harris’ eyes that spirit is summed up by one game in early April. Facing Crystal Palace at Staplewood, the visitors took a 2-0 advantage into the final half an hour. But goals from Sonnie Davis and Dominic Ballard made it 2-2 before the late Saints blitz was capped off by Fedel Ross-Lang’s stoppage time winner.

“ I think that was a big moment for the group,” Harris says. “That was probably the catalyst for us to go on and win the games we needed to.

“It's a huge credit to the boys for handling those pressure moments. Because there were some big moments in the games that they managed to deal with really well. And obviously on Thursday night, they're gonna have to do that in-game. There's gonna be loads of big moments. And if we deal with them in the best possible way then you have a chance of being successful.”

Saints won their last five games of the season to be crowned South Champions, showing just how much they excelled when everything was on the line. But the next challenge is the biggest: Manchester City who romped home to win the North by 10 points. 

“We're under no illusions of the sort of challenge that we've got,” Harris says. “But we will give it absolutely everything as the players have done all season. I have no doubt they’ll leave nothing out there and we'll see where that takes us.”

It’s a proud night for the club’s academy and the location of St Mary’s just makes it sweeter. The only thing that could add to the night would, of course, be a win.

Coming down to back the boys on Thursday evening (7:45PM kick-off)? Mikey Harris tells us a bit about the next generation of Southampton players you’ll get a chance to see.

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