HE GREW up watching Southampton and played for Saints at youth level, but AFC Bournemouth’s Josh McQuoid will set foot on the St Mary’s turf for the first time this weekend.

The Northern Ireland under-21 international has revelled in a striker’s role during AFC Bournemouth’s outstanding start to the season.

But it was not that long ago that he was taken to The Dell and St Mary’s to watch Saints with his dad, Brian, and two uncles.

“I remember watching Matt Le Tissier score against Manchester United at The Dell and we used to sit in the Itchen Stand at St Mary’s,” recalls 20-year-old McQuoid, who was born in Southampton and raised in Lymington.

“When I was a bit older I used to go with [Wolves striker] Sam Vokes, we were best mates growing up and used to play together for Sway.”

Like Vokes, McQuoid hoped to make the grade at Saints.

But after a year at the academy as an under-13, he was released.

The disappointment was fleeting.

“Southampton released my details, I got a phone call straight away from Bournemouth and after a trial game I was signed,”

explained McQuoid, who until this season had only started 16 games in four seasons, usually as a midfielder.

The fleet-footed forward had more success establishing himself in Northern Ireland’s U21 team a couple of seasons ago, even though Cherries were languishing in League Two.

But this season he has been transformed into a strike partner for Michael Symes, a target man who used to play alongside Wayne Rooney for the Everton Under-18 team that reached the 2002 FA Youth Cup final.

McQuoid has already scored five goals in seven starts this termand was recently shortlisted for the League One Player of the Month award.

“I didn’t play much last season so it’s just good to be playing,” he says.

“I was willing to play anywhere to get in the team and it’s a new position for me but I think I’ve adapted well. I seem suited to it.

“I was working more as a wide left player in pre-season but with Brett [Pitman] going there was a gap to fill.

“I’ve done well and kept my place.”

Since Pitman’s move to Bristol City last month, summer-signing Symes has also thrived.

A free transfer from Accrington Stanley – he was out of contract at the Lancashire club after ending last season as their top scorer – he has scored four goals in as many games (three penalties) since recovering from a shoulder injury.

He bagged a brace in the 3-0 win against Exeter that put the Cherries second on Tuesday night.

“We complement each other well,” said McQuoid. “He’s more of a target man, he holds the ball up well and I try to get on the end of his flick-ons.”

It says a lot for the way Cherries have evolved under Eddie Howe that Symes and McQuoid were not in the starting line up when Saints beat them 2-0 in the Carling Cup at the beginning of the season.

McQuoid, an unused substitute at St Mary’s in August, said: “Saints are a massive club for League One, it will be the biggest stadium I’ve played at and the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of.

“Everyone knows they’re a strong team, they were favourites to win the league and have some big players so it’s not going to be easy.

“But we’ve got to concentrate on what we’re going to do and not worry about them.”

McQuoid believes Bournemouth are improving by the week under Howe.

“The lads didn’t know what to expect early doors but now we’re up and running we know we can challenge,” he said.

“We’re more compact as a team now, we’re bonding well and are learning every day and from every game we play.”