IT would have been a long, painful coach journey back to South Yorkshire for John Pemberton and his Sheffield United youngsters yesterday.
Academy director Pemberton watched on from the dug-out as the Blades crashed to a 7-0 defeat at Southampton in the third round of the FA Youth Cup.
United, who reached the final of the competition last season where they lost to Manchester United over two legs, had knocked out Tranmere Rovers and Port Vale en route to their tie at the St Mary’s Stadium. An Elliott Whitehouse double saw them see off Rovers while they overcame the challenge of Port Vale on penalties at Bramall Lane.
The loss at Southampton has to be put into perspective. United headed to Hampshire without a number of first-team regulars.
Terry Kennedy and Whitehouse were both ruled out by knee injuries while Aaron Barry and Jahmal Smith were other notable absentees.
Barry missed the trip with a quad muscle problem while Smith faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines following facial surgery after the clash in the second round meeting with the Valiants.
The injury crisis forced Pemberton into selecting Ben Montgomery and Charlie Anderson, who had ankle and back knocks respectively. Indeed, Montgomery was taken off with 14 minutes left.
Conceding a goal inside the opening eight minutes did not help their cause but the Saints, one of the biggest spenders in academy competition, are a class act.
Down the years, the Championship leaders have invested heavily in their youth system and have groomed the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana.
Pemberton’s young guns will be bidding to get back to winning ways when they host Barnsley in the FA Premier Academy League on Saturday.
It is their final fixture before Christmas. United have not been beaten in the league since losing 6-1 at home to Leeds United in October.