By Kevin Affleck
Darren Sarll was bursting with pride after watching his energised team pull off a shock 2-1 win over Southampton to keep their thrilling run in the FA Youth Cup going.
The Head of the club’s Academy probably thought they had experienced their big night in the famous competition when they knocked out Birmingham City, last season’s semi-finalists, in the last round, but they scaled new heights at the home of Wingate and Finchley in round four.
Southampton are a Cat 1 Academy and play against the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal most weeks, but the Saints found themselves out-fought, out-run and out-manoeuvred by Sarll’s whippersnappers. The Golden Boys will now play Ipswich Town in the sixth round.
Ryan Cassidy will get the glory as it was his two goals that won it for the Hornets, but there were heroes everywhere, from George Langston at right-back, to Jayden Bennetts who had the game of his life in midfield, and then the front two of Cassidy and Dom Hutchinson who ran their socks off. Everyone was at least a seven out of 10 if not higher.
“I just thought it was a good all-round performance,” said Sarll. “When you play against good sides, the team has to be the winner and tonight it was a real team-powered invigorating performance. I’m really pleased and it's enjoyable to be able to give young players who try hard every day something to hold onto and something to be proud of. They've worked so hard and these are the fruits of that labour.”
Sarll was without seven of the 18 who beat the Blues in the last round, including Lewis Gordon and Sonny Blu-Lo Everton, and was so short-staffed that he had to play central midfielder Ryan Maclean as an emergency left-back.
“I thought Jayden Bennetts was magnificent,” said Sarll. “I thought Emmanuel [Adebiyi], who came in for the star of the last round [Sonny Blu-Lo Everton], was very effective, but all night the front two were excellent. Cassidy and Hutchinson were just magnificent. I thought Ryan Maclean was terrific at left-back. He played it like he plays there every week. George Langston was terrific and just grows and grows. I thought it was a very solid, very team-orientated performance and everything this club tries to encapsulate. It was an all-for-one attitude.”
The Saints’ Under-18 team held a much-vaunted Chelsea side 2-2 on Saturday and whacked West Ham United 5-1 the week before that so Sarll knew his injury-hit team were going to be up against it. But they did everything the former Stevenage boss asked of them and there was no denying they were worthy winners. In fact, the margin could have been bigger, as Cassidy had one cleared off the line, Hutchinson had a goal ruled out, and Bennetts hit the top of the bar with the effort of the match.
“These rounds are there to be won,” said Sarll. “We kind of put the development side of things to one side and tell them they've just got to win it. I just thought tonight was an opportunity to expose the players to what senior football looks like.
“We spoke all week about how mature we needed to be against a really good side – and they are a really good side with so much athleticism and they are obviously well coached by two people [ex-Hornets coaches Carl Martin and Paul Hardyman] we know really well. We just showed real maturity and you could see what we’ve been exposing them to over the last six months come out in their performance. They'll enjoy this one and think about it in years to come.”
HORNETS | Baptiste (GK); Langston, Hudson, Tricker, Maclean; Sankoh, Phillips, Bennetts, Adebiyi; Hutchinson, Cassidy (C).
Subs not used | Matthews, Hoskins (GK), Campbell, Sanders, Burchell.