A youthful and depleted Southampton B team side battled hard but narrowly lost 3-2 at Sunderland in their first Premier League 2 defeat since September.
Sunderland took the lead after 17 minutes, Ellis Taylor finding space inside the box and nestling the ball into the far corner.
The Saints response only took four minutes; Lewis Payne’s low cross causing the hosts problems and a grateful Dom Ballard was on hand to nudge the ball home.
Dave Horseman’s side enjoyed the better of the possession from then on in, profiting in the 51st minute through Dynel Simeu’s pinpoint header at the back post.
Despite Saints enjoying most the ball a brief spell of Sunderland pressure then saw the hosts claim an equaliser. Tyrese Dyce tapping home the winner from close range.
Sunderland were lifted by their equaliser, dominating the final stages of the game before taking the lead in the 84th minute through Stephen Wearne.
Despite changes in the back four and midfield, Sunderland’s front three remained familiar. Will Harris, the league’s top scorer on 10 goals, leading the line.
Meanwhile visiting Saints were forced into some late switches following an illness within the squad. Jack Turner came in for his first start since 2019 and there were only three men listed on the bench.
As the heavens opened and the winds picked up it was unsurprising that the first five minutes were quite a scrappy affair.
It was Saints who would threaten first. Kazeem Olaigbe carrying the ball past two men before finding Turner, who found the run of Lewis Payne at the far post. Payne took a touch and fired towards goal, forcing a strong Jacob Carney save over the crossbar.
Unfortunately for the visitors Sunderland’s first real attack resulted in the game’s first goal. Harris holding the ball up inside the box, before feeding Taylor who found the far corner.
It didn’t take long for Saints to find a response. Payne causing problems again down the right flank before producing a low cross which keeper Carney looked to have comfortably claimed.
Somehow the ball evaded his grasp and Ballard was ready and waiting to nudge the ball over the line from close range.
The Black Cats were next to threaten, Benjamin Kimpioka rising highest from a corner to head just over Jack Bycroft’s crossbar.
Kamari Doyle then went close via a free kick, stepping over it from 30 yards out but seeing his well-placed strike turned behind by Carney.
Much of Saints’ joy came down that right-hand-side, Olaigbe this time finding space and cutting inside into the penalty area. His cut back intended for Ballard who was beaten to it by the defender.
As the half wore on it was the visitors who would enjoy the lion’s share of possession, as they constantly caused a threat on the counterattack.
But despite the possession it remained level going into half-time.
The first chance of the second half fell the way of Jayden Smith, who volleyed his effort towards goal but saw it comfortably claimed by Carney.
Saints finally profited from their pressure either side of half-time in the 51st minute.
Skipper Caleb Watts firing in a corner towards the back post, where Simeu was ready and waiting to triumphantly head home.
The chances kept coming for the visitors. Turner looking to be free in the penalty area on 57 minutes before being dragged to the floor. Nothing doing for referee Aaron Jackson.
Then came a shot for the lively Thierry Small, who burst down the left flank before firing towards goal and narrowly missing the near post.
Another neat move for Saints came just past the hour mark. Doyle producing a fine ball to pick out Ballard on the break, who checked back and curled his effort just the wrong side of the far post.
The second half also saw a return to action for last year’s scholar of the year Will Tizzard, who had missed a large portion of this season with a broken foot.
Sunderland went the close twice in quick succession on 70 minutes. Harris in the right place at the right time on the back post but only able to volley his effort against the post, before moments later the forward was played through again. Bycroft forced into a superb point-blank save.
The home side’s best spell of the game then came with its reward. Substitute Caeen Kelly breaking into the box and feeding Dyce who poked the ball home for the equaliser.
Momentum slightly shifted in the home side’s favour following the goal, providing a real test for Horseman’s young side.
Another chance fell to Harris inside the penalty area as the game entered the final ten minutes. The Sunderland striker firing first time but his effort straight at Bycroft.
Soon the pressure paid off, Saints dealing with the initial cross but the second attempt falling to Wearne, who made no mistake with a triumphant finish.
Despite a fightback from Horseman’s side during the four added minutes, the hosts held on to condemn Saints to their first league defeat since September.
It was a battling performance from the young visiting outfit, who will look to make amends during their double game week next week.
First up is the visit of Bournemouth on Wednesday in the Premier League cup, before West Bromwich Albion are the visitors in Premier League 2 next Sunday.
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