James Oliver-Pearce can cope with the expectations that come with being in charge of an unbeaten side, but is well aware of the potential banana skin tonight’s opponents could be.
Our Academy under-18s have yet to be beaten in this season’s Youth Alliance League or Cup, as they embark on their FA Youth Cup campaign against Woking, kick-off 7pm at The Cherry Red Records Stadium.
“I’d much rather be in this situation than any other,” said James. “The run that the boys have been on is a credit to how they’ve performed and how they’ve behaved throughout the season. We talk a lot about elite behaviours as a football club now and quite often they are that level.
“They don’t turn on each other, they don’t look for excuses, they just find a way to get it done. But you never know. It’s a big stage, how are people going to respond under a bit of pressure? Whereas Saturday mornings is their natural environment at the training ground – this isn’t a natural environment for us.
“If they are going to go on and have successful careers, they are going to want to be able to deal with that psychologically.”
Our unbeaten run is made even more impressive in the absence due to injury of several key players. James has though been able to call upon the talented age group below, which includes Nigel Higgs Development Award-winner Leo Young.
The imposing figure of striker Quaine Bartley is back with the under-18s, having figured for the first team last week when he made his debut against Crystal Palace in the Papa John’s Trophy.
“I got a taste of playing in front of a crowd in the Crystal Palace match,” said Quaine. “As a player, I’d never played in front of that many fans. It gives you that extra boost and energy. It’s a lovely atmosphere and it makes you want to do even better.
“At the end of the day I’m still with the eighteens, I’m not a first team player. I appreciate the opportunities I do get, when I get asked to step up to the first team, but I just want to get the job done for the eighteens. When I get my chance with the first team, hopefully, I take it as well.”
Our main photo above from Monday's training session shows James with Paris Lock, who scored the goal in our 1-0 victory over Burnley last season.
Go behind the scenes at Southfields Academy and watch our Under-18s prepare for tonight’s cup tie, along with the full interviews from James Oliver-Pearce and Quaine Bartley, via the link below to our official YouTube channel.