Coach Shaun Cooper admits individual player development must take precedence over team success as AFC Bournemouth continue their Premier League Cup campaign.
The Cherries’ under-21s will tonight be looking to book a place in the last 16 when they face Group E rivals Stoke City at the Potters' Clayton Wood training ground (7pm, admission free).
Cooper’s squad is expected to head to Staffordshire without several players who featured in their first four group games after they secured loan moves in the January transfer window.
Leading goalscorer Alex Dobre, who netted in both wins against Nottingham Forest, the 2-0 victory at Southampton and the 2-2 draw with the Potters, joined Championship outfit Wigan Athletic.
Fellow frontman Jake Scrimshaw moved to National League Eastleigh, while Jaidon Anthony, who is currently sidelined due to injury, linked up with National South Weymouth.
The attacking trio has contributed 20 of the team’s 30 goals in three competitions this season – the Premier League Cup, the Central League Cup and the Hampshire Senior Cup.
And while Group E leaders Cherries will be keen to maintain their unbeaten record against Stoke, Cooper insists trying to bring players through to the first team is his and his staff’s priority.
He told afcb.co.uk: “All our players are eligible if we wanted to pull them back from their loan moves. But now they are out, that is their priority.
“We will assess each individual’s situation and see what’s happening with them at their loan clubs. Then, we will decide what we may or may not need.
“Ultimately, when it comes down to it, individual progression is the main thing. The lads are a tight-knit unit and they like to have that team mentality and perform as a team, which is great for them and us.
“The transfer window is what it is. We have lost a few players and had a few return. Whoever plays, we will be going out to win and preparing as best we can to do that.
“The personnel we have available might change how we approach the game and we have lost a lot of firepower. But we have a couple of defenders back and are perhaps stronger further down the pitch.
“One of the plusses of our boys going out on loan is that it opens the door for some of the under-18s to step up. When they have come in this season, they have done really well.
“Credit to Alan (Connell) because he’s got them playing really good stuff and everybody has seen that this season.
“Their FA Youth Cup defeat against Millwall last week showcased their toughness, character and resilience to come back from 2-0 down and almost get something from the game against a physically-strong Millwall team. A lot of the individuals didn’t do themselves any harm, that’s for sure.”
Although his selection will also be affected by the first-team squad being on their winter break, Cooper said his players would be looking to secure a victory which would boost their chances of winning the group and subsequently earning home advantage in the last 16.
He added: “We will be going out to win the game, as we always do. The closer we have got to the game, the more thorough our preparation has been.
“We have had a good look at Stoke. They have played a few different systems recently and whichever one they have gone with, they play with a high intensity, they are very aggressive out of possession and are a very good team.
“They gave us a very good game here. I’ve watched it back and they had a couple of good chances. We countered well against them but I thought they pressed us well so we will be reviewing that and looking at the games they have played recently to try to get a feel for what they might go with against us.”