ACADEMY boss Gerry Murphy hopes the experience of playing regular Reserve football will be telling when Town tackle Luton in the FA Youth Cup third round at Kenilworth Road tonight (7.00).
The Galpharm youngsters have already come through away tests at Grimsby and Northampton without conceding a goal, and Murphy is eagerly plotting a passage to the last 32 of the famous Under 18 competition, won last season by Liverpool, who beat Manchester City 3-2 in the two-legged final.
A string of Academy players have been getting second-team run-outs in the Pontin's Holidays League and Cup this season.
And Murphy, the Academy manager, believes that could be an important factor.
"There's no doubt in my mind that both playing on big pitches and against experienced adult players has helped our lads," said Murphy, who watched with pride as Grimsby were beaten 1-0 and Northampton 4-0 in the previous two Youth Cup rounds.
Striker Lucas Akins grabbed a hat trick at Sixfields to add to his winner at Blundell Park, and will be looking for further goals against Luton after Town drew a blank in Saturday's 2-0 FA Academy Premier League defeat by Nottingham Forest.
"The difference was that Forest took their chances, and there's a lesson to be learned ahead of the Luton game," said Murphy.
"We got on top in the second half, but couldn't put the ball in the net, something which has happened in a number of matches so far this season."
Murphy has had information about Luton from his counterpart at Northampton, who play in the same junior league (the Puma Youth Alliance).
And he saw the young Hatters beaten 2-1 by Northampton as he was checking out the Cobblers' form before the second-round tie.
"Like us, Luton have been up and down this season, but on their day, they are a decent side who can cause problems," he said.
"They like to get the ball down and play a passing game, and it's crucial that we are switched on from the outset."
Joe Skarz is in the squad after being left out of last night's League I game at Millwall following the return from suspension of regular left-back Danny Adams. Skarz, who played four first-team games as a full-back during Adams' absence, has figured at centre-back in the previous two Youth Cup ties while he played in the holding midfield role in a 4-1-4-1 formation against Forest Juniors on Saturday.
Murphy and Youth team coach Graham Mitchell are hopeful wideman Luke Malcher will be available for a first Youth Cup outing of the season after being hit by an ankle injury.
With defender Adam Wilson and winger Danny Racchi both too old for the competition, Under 16 quartet David Pickering, Dave Heagney, Spencer Harris and Jack Hunt are again in the squad.
Town (from): Eastwood, Pickering, Killock, Skarz, Codman, Roberts, Bailey, Berrett, Hallam, Akins, Broadbent, Malcher, Jackson, Heagney, Harris, Hunt, Smithies.
* Murphy and his Academy staff are guests of the Patrons tomorrow night (Panasonic Suite, 7.30 for 8.00).
The meeting is open to all Town fans, as is the Academy carol service, which will be held at the Sports Barn at Leeds Road Playing Fields tomorrow (6.00).
Refreshments and mince pies will be available.