On Wednesday night, City u18s will hope to strike the first blow in their bid to reach a first FA Youth Cup final since 2008.
Jason Wilcox’s young charges host Leicester under the Academy stadium floodlights in the first leg of what is sure to be a hotly-contested semi-final of English youth football’s most prestigious competition.
City fired six past Crewe in the quarters to book their date of destiny with the Foxes, but boss Wilcox has urged caution and warned that his side will face a tough test to progress against a strong Leicester side who have seen off Wigan, Chesterfield, Southampton and Birmingham to reach this stage.
“Semi-finals are always difficult and it will be a tough task,” Wilcox told mcfc.co.uk.
“I’ve seen them a few times and they have some good players and are a very physical side. They’ve always had a strong academy, I used to play there myself and I know a lot of very good people there. It was never going to be an easy game.
“We have to make sure we stay compact, work really hard and stop Leicester from playing. But we have done our preparation and we’re all looking forward to it.
“It’s an exciting time, we’ve got a really good chance to go through to the FA Youth Cup final, but I’m sure Leicester are saying exactly the same thing. I’ve no doubt that it will be a really difficult tie for us.”
Spectators have been treated to attractive, attacking and exciting football on City’s FA Youth Cup journey so far, with fans at the Academy Stadium witnessing their team score 17 times in just four outings in the competition this term.
While individuals have shone, Wilcox is quick to point out performances have been strong throughout the squad, and team spirit has been a vital factor to progress so far.
The former England international declared: “I think with every game the lads play they are gaining confidence and some momentum. I really enjoy watching them play.
“We have some really good players but we also fit into a team organisation which is vitally important. We aren’t just a team of individuals, we are a team that works hard for each other, understands each other’s roles and responsibilities, knows each other well and have a great team spirit.
“The pressure is coming from us in that we know we have a chance and now we have to go and perform and deliver.”
The u18s coach is keen to make home advantage pay in this first leg, and has urged as many fans as possible to take advantage of the opportunity to see the club’s young prospects in action.
“This is a really special occasion for the club because this is the first semi-final in the Academy Stadium,” he said. “When I played against Man City as a youth player the support the City youth team had was always bigger than anywhere.
“Last year we walked around the Etihad Stadium after winning the Northern title and the lads still talk now about the reception they got. There is no feeling like walking out and hearing your own supporters and the more supporters we can get at the ground the better chance we’re going to have.”
Striker Thierry Ambrose is a familiar name to supporters after making his first team debut in Abu Dhabi earlier this season.
Now, the 18-year-old is keen to round off a special year in his fledgling career by tasting Youth Cup success in the last season he will remain eligible to take part in the competition.
“I want to win every game I play,” he asserted. “Every game is different and I want to be a winner. I know how important the Youth Cup is in England and so now it is really important to me to try and win it.
“If I scored in the semi-final it would be a moment I could never forget. It would be an amazing feeling and I would love to score!”
The Frenchman was on the scoresheet in the last round against Crewe, but says past results are no indication of victory on Wednesday although extra experience with the same team in the UEFA Youth League could prove crucial.
Thierry explained: “This is a different team and every game is difficult, so we need to be prepared but I can’t wait.
“For me, it has been important to play with the same players in the Youth Cup and the UEFA Youth League because we feel confident on the pitch with each other. This year we have a big chance to win a trophy so we need to be ready for every game we play.”
In particular, his understanding on and off the pitch with City’s top scorer in the competition, Brandon Barker, has been reaping dividends: “Brandon is like my brother. We have a lot of jokes together and when I first came to England he helped me so much – I couldn’t speak English and he helped me to learn.
“On the pitch I know what he wants to do and where he is going to be. He’s a great guy and I love playing with him.”
FA Youth Cup: Support our boys!
City are in FA Youth Cup semi final first leg action at the Academy Stadium on Wednesday night.
Leicester City stand in the way of a first final appearance since the Class of 2008 won the competition seven years ago.
They need your support! Click here to find out how you can be there to help roar the lads into the final.