Southend United U18s travel to Portman Road to take on Ipswich Town in the First Round of The FA Youth Cup on Tuesday afternoon, kick-off 2:00pm.
The match takes place behind closed doors due to current coronavirus restrictions, but youth team coach Danny Heath still believes the fixture holds a prestigious place in the schedule.
“Playing at Portman Road certainly adds something to the occasion,” he confirmed. “It’s a ground that holds over 30,000 spectators, and although there won’t be any fans in the stadium, that’s still special.”
“It should give the boys a taste of what they can expect if they are successful in becoming professional footballers. In the short-term, the focus is on winning the game against Ipswich, but the ultimate aim is to play in stadiums every week.”
“It’s the youth team version of The FA Cup, and we know it means a lot to the club. There have been some great matches involving Southend United in this competition over the years, and the boys have to remember that it’s special,” he added.
To achieve their aims, Blues have a formidable task as they come up against one of the leading Category Two Academies in the country. Ipswich sit third in the South Division of the Professional Development League, where they face former foes of the Shrimpers such as Colchester United, Millwall and Watford.
The Tractor Boys have won three and lost four of their league fixtures to date, and Heath and his squad have studied a number of those matches to prepare them for their next encounter.
“We’ve watched three or four Ipswich matches this season as coaches, and the boys have been sent those videos as well as their usual analysis. We have done our homework on them.”
“We know that Ipswich are a good footballing side, and if both teams produce what they are capable of then it should be a really good match.”
“Hopefully the boys can do all they can to get a positive result. The work they put in day-in and day-out on the training ground warrants them reaching their target in the competition,” he stated.
Blues were knocked out by Cambridge United at Roots Hall at the same stage of last season’s competition but, despite a busy programme of games over the past couple of weeks, during which the squad lost their unbeaten start to the campaign, Heath believes they can go at least one better this time around.
“We’ve had to manage the workload with the boys because they have had a lot of games, but we haven’t used that as an excuse not to put the work in on the training ground and in the classroom,” he declared.
“We’ve had some good sessions and undertaken a lot of workshops with the boys playing in their units. One of them involved a scenario where the boys were given the role of becoming the coaching staff and they had to present to their team-mates how they would use a certain formation to combat another.”
“That was particularly constructive and generated a really good discussion. The squad are showing a good understanding of the game, and hopefully we can take that into this game and that will help us reach our targets.”