Southampton B team booked their place in the Premier League Cup quarter-finals in a narrow win over a battling Sheffield United side.
Dom Ballard got off to the perfect start from the penalty spot after just five minutes as Saints led at the break, despite a consistent threat from the young Blades.
The visitors provided a stern test, but the mixture of youth and experience held firm to secure a safe passage into the next round.
With several players departing on loan earlier in the week, Dave Horseman fielded a mixed side that featured players from the Under-18s to the first team at Snows Stadium.
Duje Ćaleta-Car partnered Armel Bella-Kotchap in defence with Moussa Djenepo and Mislav Oršić lined up in midfield, while starting places were also handed to Tyler Dibling and Jayden Meghoma.
With a place in the quarter-finals at stake both sides knew an early foothold in the game could prove to be vital, and it was Saints who found it inside the first five minutes.
Djenepo, who was an early handful for the Sheffield United defence, was brought down in the penalty area with a spot-kick awarded much to the frustration of the visitors’ bench.
Fresh from his PL2 Player of the Month nomination, Ballard confidently stepped up and passed the ball into the bottom right corner to open the scoring with his 17th goal of the season.
A half-chance for a quick reply fell to visiting captain Sydie Peck, who shot wide from the edge of the area, but the early lead was well-managed by Horseman’s makeshift squad.
The Blades, who are a Category 2 academy, weren’t overawed by their Category 1 opponents and grew into the first half impressively with several chances to equalise.
A dangerous delivery from full-back Joe Starbuck flashed across Ollie Wright’s penalty area and only needed a touch to convert.
Saints’ goalkeeper was called into action for the first time before the half hour mark as Peck struck a well-hit free-kick from the edge of the area that was kept out by a fine, stretching save.
Owen Hampson had a pair of chances in quick succession as he too was denied by Wright’s commanding confidence; a shot across goal was smothered after his first attempt had sailed over the crossbar.
A wicked strike from range from midfielder Oliver Arblaster needed to be tipped over as the visitors maintained their search for a leveller.
There was an opportunity - against the run of play, in truth - for Saints to double their lead before half time after a flowing counter attack started by Kamari Doyle, but Ballard headed wide from an eventual Oršić cross.
Sheffield United instantly resumed their search for a way back into the game in the second half, but Saints held firm with an occasional foray forward of their own.
The pressure from the visitors remained constant, but the best chance for a second goal of the tie came on the counter attack as Ballard had a left footed effort deflected out for a corner.
Another well-delivered Oršić cross followed as Dibling glanced a header wide of the far post as the game ticked into the final 15 minutes.
Dibling was denied once more in the 87th minute after a wonderful, mazy run inside the penalty area but his low shot was well saved.
Despite a very credible display from the visitors, Horseman’s side saw out the game and secured their progression into the quarter-finals as their best run in the competition for five years continues.