Everton Under-18s coach Keith Southern believes his side have the firepower to overcome Manchester United on Saturday and hit the summit of the Premier League U18 Northern Division (11am kick-off).
The Blues head into the clash at Carrington just a point behind league-leaders United, and with a game in hand. Southern says his players will relish the chance to go toe-to-toe with the Red Devils – and believes the Toffees boast the attacking talent to come out on top.
“We’ve scored a lot of goals this season and we feel we can hurt them going forward,” he told evertonfc.com.
“We have got some front lads who can cause problems, and we’re hopeful they’ll perform, and we’ll get some quality service into them.”
The top-of-the-table showdown comes hot on the heels of the Blues’ Premier League Cup semi-final defeat against Chelsea last Saturday.
The Toffees were edged out 1-0 at USM Finch Farm, and while Southern concedes “it was a tough one to take”, he believes his players will relish the opportunity to hit back in another huge game as the Blues eye their fourth straight league victory.
“We’re in the middle of a fantastic spell of games – exciting fixtures for our lads – and there’s no bigger than Manchester United,” he said.
“They’ll be technically excellent, they’ll have some really creative ball-playing footballers. Our organisation and team shape will be important to combat that.
“But we’ve also got some really good players too. The disappointment against Chelsea was that we didn’t score – I can’t remember the last time that happened. We’ve got some real firepower.”
And Southern is under no illusions – his players will know what’s at stake.
“We probably won’t mention it to the lads [going top], but they’re not daft!”
Southern himself is a product of the Everton youth system, and was at the Club between 1997 and 2002. While he didn’t make a first-team appearance for Everton, he went on to have a successful professional career, most notably at Blackpool. He played more than 300 games in a decade-long spell with the Seasiders, and was an integral figure in their promotion to the Premier League in 2010.
He’s now embracing the chance to pass on his experience to the young talents at USM Finch Farm.
“A lot of the coaches here came through the Everton system,” Southern explains. “The likes of Paul Tait [U18 Head Coach], Phil Jevons [U16 Head Coach] and Tom Kearney [U9-U12 Phase Lead] all did too. It’s the unique way this club works. It’s fantastic.
“We’ve experienced what these boys have on a day-to-day basis and know first-hand how hard it is to make it in the game. You try and pass on those experiences – highlight the dangers for a young footballer, the pitfalls – and encourage them and develop their skills to give them the best opportunity to make it in the game.
“If it’s here, great. That’s what we’re all here for, that’s what we want to produce – players for our first team. But if they can’t make it here, we want to give them the minerals and the foundations to succeed elsewhere. That’s what it’s all about for me.”