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Crunch Time For Saints' Under-21s


19:46 16th December 2012

There promises to be a night of drama in store as Saints’ Under-21s host their Newcastle counterparts at Eastleigh’s Silverlake Stadium for a 7pm kick-off tomorrow.

This is our final game of the First Group Stage of this season’s Barclays U21 Premier League, with Martin Hunter’s team currently fifth in National Group 2.

Saints could potentially finish anywhere from third to sixth in the seven-team group, with their final position having an impact upon how they play out the Second Group Stage after Christmas.

A third-place finish would see Saints qualify for the Elite Group Stage, where they would compete against table-toppers from the other two National Groups plus fellow Group 2 sides Spurs and Manchester United, who have already secured their progression.

Teams finishing in fourth and fifth progress to Tier 1 of the Qualification Group, while those in sixth and seventh go into Tier 2.

At the end of the Second Group Stage, the top three teams in the Elite Group Stage go into the semi-finals of the end-of-season knockout tournament to decide who is crowned champion of the Barclays U21 Premier League.

Those three sides are joined by the winner of a play-off contested by the winners of the two tiers of the Qualification Group – therefore it is possible for a side to win the U21 Premier League even if they miss out on the Elite Group Stage.

For Saints to qualify for the Elite Group Stage, they would need to beat Newcastle tomorrow evening and hope that third-placed Aston Villa lose at home to leaders Spurs.

Furthermore, if Villa and Spurs draw, a five-goal winning margin would be enough to help Saints leapfrog the Villains into third place.

But U21 Coach Hunter is keen that his side concentrate on the task in hand rather than worrying too much about events elsewhere.

“We know exactly what we’ve got to do,” Martin told Saints Player ahead of tomorrow's game. 

“Whoever wins the other game will finish top of the group, so there are two very important games coming up. 

“We just need to beat Newcastle and see what happens. Our whole focus is on beating them, and we’ll worry about the permutations afterwards.”

With sides competing in the U21 Premier League able to name three overage outfielders plus one goalkeeper in their matchday squads, Saints have been able to utilise a number of First Team players this season.

For his team’s last game, a 1-1 draw with Manchester United on Monday 3rd December, Hunter selected Tadanari Lee and Emmanuel Mayuka in his starting line-up and named Jonathan Forte on the bench. James Ward-Prowse also played the full match.

The likes of Artur Boruc, Danny Butterfield, Ryan Dickson, Jack Cork and Steve De Ridder have also played in Under-21 fixtures this season, so fans can expect the odd First Team player to feature at Eastleigh tomorrow evening.

This game is our first to be played at the Silverlake Stadium since the announcement of Saints’ new partnership with local Blue Square Bet South side Eastleigh.

Admission is priced at just £5 for adults and £3 for concessions, so make your way over to SO50 and support our lads as they push for the Elite Group!

If you can’t make it down, we’ll have live audio commentary via Saints Player and text coverage through our official Twitter feed.

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