Paul Tait has urged Everton’s in-form Under-18s to rise to the occasion when they walk out at Goodison Park for Friday’s FA Youth Cup clash with Ipswich Town.
The young Blues had won five straight games, scoring 16 goals, before being beaten 1-0 by Derby County in the Premier League Cup last weekend - an effective dead rubber with Everton having already secured top spot in their group and progress to the last eight.
And while Tait wants his youngsters to be excited about stepping out at the Grand Old Lady, he says it’s important they don’t lose focus under the stadium's famous floodlights.
“We’ve been talking about this game for quite a while now,” Tait told evertonfc.com. “The third round of the FA Youth Cup is an important game in the calendar for the players, especially getting it at Goodison.
“The players can’t help but be excited once they get to Goodison and it’s under the lights, it’s the FA Youth Cup and all their friends and families will be there.
“So there’s no getting away from the fact it’s a special game. But as coaches we just have to get the message across that they need to keep doing what they’ve been working on in the league games and on the training ground. That’s the balance we need to find.”
Everton currently sit second in the Under-18 Premier League table, level on points with Manchester United and two behind leaders Manchester City.
Opponents Ipswich head to Merseyside eighth in the Professional Development League South, having recorded just one win in five.
But Tait believes the Toffees' focus on exposing Academy players to knockout football at an early age means they will understand not to take anything for granted when the Tractor Boys roll into town.
“They get experience of it throughout the age groups because we have a lot of tournaments now and we put a big emphasis on travelling abroad to play in these tournaments,” he added. “A lot of the lads who have been here a while are used to tournament football, albeit the FA Youth Cup is a little bit special and a little bit different. But hopefully those experiences they’ve already had will help them.
“Obviously if we do well in the Youth Cup, and we’re already in the quarter-finals of the Premier League Cup as well, that all bodes well for the second half of the season.”
As well as the players, Tait, too, is looking forward to another opportunity to emerge from the Goodison tunnel, having only been handed the reins of the team full-time at the beginning of the season.
The former striker took charge of a Youth Cup game at the stadium in January 2015 but saw his side lose 5-4 on penalties to Southampton after a 1-1 draw.
“I had a little taste of it when we were rotating coaches a few seasons ago and I’m looking forward to getting out there again,” he said. “I’m really enjoying working with these players and hopefully we’ll put in a good performance.”
Friday's game kicks off at 7pm, with entry £3 for adults and £1 for juniors. Official Members and Season Ticket holders will also be able to watch a live stream of the game for free. Click here to find out more.