Rick Martin's FA Youth Cup hopefuls will be granted every respect insists his Everton counterpart Neil Dewsnip as the young Canaries face the toughest assignment of their young, footballing lives at the Stobart Stadium, Widnes, tonight – snow and ice permitting, of course.
Not that it is about to get any easier after this, either. To the winner of tonight's fifth round tie goes the chance to face FA Youth Cup holders Manchester City in the quarter-finals after they continued to defend their prestigious crown with an all-too convincing 4-2 victory over Newcastle United at Eastlands on Wednesday night.
It is quite a prize. The chance to play at the City of Manchester Stadium against the current runaway leaders of the Northern Youth Premier league.
Not that Martin's Canaries should have too much to fear. Down south, and they've already dismissed Arsenal away in the league and last Saturday racked up the scalp of fellow Premiership giants Chelsea as goals from Nick Davey and Tom Adeyemi helped inspire the City kids to a 3-2 win over their West London visitors.
No doubt at least one of the watching crowd at Colney would have had his notebook out as the Toffees did their homework on this evening's fifth round opponents.
“We've done our research and Norwich are a very good team,” said Everton Youth boss Dewsnip ahead of this evening's North-West clash.
“They have a reputation for playing good football and we know it's going to be a really, really good game. They've got a number of internationals in their team, so we'll have to be ready.”
His young charges also started their Youth Cup week with a bang – beating city neighbours Liverpool 3-2. A feat, of course, the senior side would repeat in the FA Cup proper in mid-week.
“It's a great feel-good factor beating Liverpool,” he told the club's official website.
“Whatever the circumstances you always want to beat your nearest and dearest and we deservedly done so. The disappointment is with not being able to play this game at Goodison because it's such a fantastic place to play whether it's at senior or youth level.”
The switch to Widnes' rugby league stadium was forced on Everton in order to accommodate this week's FA Cup replay. For Martin – whose youngsters travelled north yesterday – the fact that they won't get to grace the Goodison turf tonight is compensated by the fact that a trip to Eastlands awaits the winner.
“The positive way that I am going to spin it is that its an incentive to the lads,” said Martin.
“If they want to play at the big stadiums, they have got to beat Everton – beat Everton and you're playing at one of the best stadiums in the Premiership.”
And, of course, against the richest club in the world.
That his teenage charges have the character for tonight's contest ought not to be in doubt. The manner in which England Youth keeper Declan Rudd loomed so large over that dramatic, penalty shoot-out success against Stoke City in the fourth round bodes well for this evening.
He will be a big player tonight – as will Welsh international centre-half David Stephens, skipper Korey Smith and his midfield pal and partner Tom Adeyemi. Up front and City's hopes will rest with Nick Davey and Danny Kelly – the latter warming up for tonight with a man of the match performance against Chelsea at the weekend.
“We're really focussed this year,” said Martin, with a real head of steam behind him both results and performance-wise.
“We've got a good group of lads and we went into that holiday period with some good games under our belt in the league – like our victory over Arsenal.
“We knew we could kick on,” he told the club's official site today. “And it's about that mental toughness which has taken us to an area of the Youth Cup which we haven't been used to before.”
Smith and Adeyemi have, of course, already made it as far as the senior travelling party – Smith as far as the bench under Glenn Roeder for the FA Cup trip to Charlton Athletic.
He [Roeder] suggested that he would look to get the pair 'on stream' by April time first team-wise; it is a timetable that the new City boss Bryan Gunn may be able to ease slightly after his whirlwind spell on the transfer merry-go-round boosted the number of bodies at his disposal. Simon Lappin has also come in from the cold of late.
And with the opening of next week's 'emergency loan' window, the expectation remains that further bodies will arrive at Colney – enabling, in turn, the likes of Martin and new first team coach Ian Crook to gently nurture these boys along rather than expecting too much, too soon.
That all said, if – and it remains a bif 'if' – if the Canaries can get themselves to some point of safety come the middle of April then it may well be time to give a Smith or an Adeyemi a first, real look at Championship football when the pressure to get results is off.
“I've probably had more conversations with Bryan [Gunn] about young players going into the first team than previous managers at the football club,” said Martin.
The fact that Gunn Jnr, Angus, is part of that same Academy set-up also helps the new manager's understanding of the way the whole system works.
“But I feel the boys need to be performing wll, both on the training field and in the Under-18s and reserves, to be ready to be called upon by the senior staff,” said Martin.
History, at least, bodes well. Everton – eventually – lost to Norwich in the final of the FA Youth Cup in 1983.
All square at 5-5 after the first and second legs, Paul Clayton's lone goal in the third and final decider away at Goodison Park brought the trophy back home to Norfolk.
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