The Third Round draw of the FA Youth Cup ensured a tough start to the Cup campaign as Fulham were drawn away against Portsmouth in one of the ties of the round.
Under the stewardship of Gary Brazil, the Under 18 side has seen a dramatic turnaround in fortune – going from propping up the table last season to a top three spot this term. Indeed, the Whites made a flying start to the current campaign, recording six straight wins.
Nonetheless, Tuesday evening’s opponents are likely to pose a tough test and have already beaten the Whites once this season.
“We played them earlier in the season and they beat us 2-1 at Motspur Park,” Brazil told fulhamfc.com as he looked ahead to Tuesday evening’s match at Fratton Park. “It will be a very tough game for us, they are we’ll organised and they will make it very hard for us to open them up. But when were really at it and we have our strongest side out, we’re hard to handle and I expect us to give them a very good game.
“It’s a tough draw but we’ll be organised and the boys know what they have to do. I wouldn’t think Portsmouth are looking forward to playing us. From our point of view it’s all positive. We’ve had an excellent season so far and the boys have really punched above their weight. They can be rightly proud of what they’ve achieved so far and the icing on the cake would be a Youth Cup run.
“Paul Hart [Portsmouth’s Director of Youth Operations] historically has been excellent at bringing young kids through at Leeds and Nottingham Forest. He’s got a fantastic track record and is someone I respect greatly for his work at youth levels. He’ll have them well organised but so will we and I’m thoroughly looking forward to it.
“From the staff’s point of view it’s going to be interesting to see how the players handle it. Obviously there’s a little bit of anxiety and nervous tension. But if they’re going to aspire to anything in the game, they’re going to have to handle big situations. At this moment in time this is probably as big a situation as they’ll get.
“We’ll set them up and do everything we possibly can to give them the opportunity to win the game. It’s going to be one of those occasions where you stand back and watch what they do. We’ve worked long and hard from July 2nd on the training ground and they know what I expect from them. They’re nicely fit; we’ve always been physically strong against other teams so I’m thoroughly looking forward to it. I hope they go out and do themselves justice.
“We’ve attained a position at the proper end of the table which is good and when we see people around the circuit at different games, they’re looking at us and are saying ‘What are you doing?’ because we are now at the right end of the table. We’ve got good practices in place and we work the players hard.”
The FA Youth Cup has long been regarded as the showpiece youth tournament, just looking through a list of past winners and notable participants reveals the likes of Joe Cole, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney. However, the Cup also provides a competitive arena away from the league.
“There is a big development process going on here – we are developing young men hopefully into professional footballers,” Brazil explained. “That never goes away but this is one of the occasions where the result matters. As much as we have created a very strong winning mentality amongst the group; you either win or you go out. That put the game into a slightly different scenario.”