CHERRIES under-18s manager Alan Connell says his side are “relishing” the opportunity to take on high-flying Leicester City in the FA Youth Cup fifth round, describing their opponents as “arguably the best under-18 team in the country”.
The young Foxes sit joint top of the Premier League under-18 South division, with nine wins from their opening 12 fixtures.
Leicester beat reigning FA Youth Cup holders Aston Villa in their first match in the competition, highlighting the difficulty of the task ahead of Connell’s side.
Speaking to Cherries’ website ahead of the tie on Friday (7pm), Connell said: “A home draw is always really nice. Over the years we’ve had some great nights at our stadium and obviously we had one recently against QPR so I know the boys are relishing playing at home again and we come up a formidable opponent in Leicester.
“They knocked out the holders Aston Villa in the third round and are currently top of the category one league, above the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, so they look like arguably the best under-18 team in the country at the moment.
“It’s a massive game and one we’ll be going into as underdogs, but we’ve had that before and it’s important that the players enjoy it, we’ll be well prepared, and we’ll give it our best shot.
“Leicester have invested heavily in their academy after they got a brand-new training ground and they’ve got some international players in their squad, so they're going to be a tough opponent and a massive challenge."
Cherries will be hoping for a decent crowd on Friday night, with the club potentially opening the entirety of the Vitality Main Stand if demand calls for it.
Connell is keen for Cherries fans to get behind the team, with the under-18s manager believing that the FA Youth Cup serves as a strong factor in a player’s development.
“Being at home and hopefully getting another big crowd will help our players enjoy the experience and as long as my players give everything,” continued Connell.
“I’ll be more than happy with that.
"Every round, the media attention gets bigger, the crowd gets bigger and that’s all good for what we’re trying to prepare them to do, which is play at a professional level.
“These Youth Cup nights are a valuable experience and even the pressure of a knockout cup tie is another ingredient that helps make these special experiences for the players.
“When I speak to the older players who came through the under-18s, they still look back really fondly and realise the importance these games had on their development.”