JOE Roach expects Cherries’ youth team to face a sterner test of their mettle in the second half of the season with Merit League football just round the corner.

The Dean Court youngsters top the Football League Youth Alliance South West with two games remaining and have already secured their place in the Merit League.

That division will comprise the top five teams in the south west section and the top seven in the south east section.

And academy manager Roach is anticipating an increased challenge for Carl Fletcher’s fledglings, who drew 2-2 at home to title rivals Plymouth at the weekend.

He told the Daily Echo: “Carl has instilled a winning mentality in the lads and this side of Christmas, it has gone well.

“The next half of the season will be more of a test as we are likely to be playing established academy teams such as Watford and MK Dons.

“The past couple of results have been disappointing but we had 14 players in the squad on Saturday who were either first years or schoolboys. That bodes well for this season and the following season.

“We will continue to develop their game maturity and overall we’re pleased with the way things have gone so far.”

Cherries took the lead shortly before the break against Plymouth when Sam Surridge squared for the unmarked Matt Neale to beat keeper Cory Harvey.

The visitors levelled within a minute through Ryan Lane but midway through the second half, Matt Worthington restored the Cherries advantage when he curled into the bottom corner.

Ten minutes from time, Louis Rooney grabbed an equaliser before substitute Joe Quigley missed the chance to grab a late win for the hosts.

Roach added: “The opposition know we have a football philosophy so in some ways it’s quite easy to work out what we’re going to do.

“Consequently, we have to relieve the pressure more often than other teams. Plymouth were quite direct at times, put pressure on us and stopped us playing.

“We don’t get the lads to lump it, we still try and apply what we do at training in the week. The players have got to be complemented on that because they have stuck with it.”

Cherries: Stanton, Walker, Lee, Lander (Jordan, 82), Harfield, Miller (Holmes, 65), Butcher, Worthington, O’Connell, Neale, Surridge (Quigley, 75).