In a game that had a bit everything, Southampton's B Team marked their fifth pre-season friendly with a hard-fought 2-2 draw against local rivals Eastleigh at the Silverlake Stadium.
An action packed first 45 minutes saw Saints stride into a two-goal lead, Diamond Edwards’s low strike on 11 minutes getting his side off to the perfect start before Luke Peace doubled the advantage with a composed half-volley four minutes before the break.
The second half was much the same in terms of excitement, but it was Eastleigh that proved the more clinical, Tristan Abrahams’s penalty in the 71st minute followed by George Langston’s header in the 82nd, ensuring the hosts a share of the spoils.
With both sides broadcasting their attacking intent in the opening stages, it was Eastleigh who enjoyed the first real sight of goal, Brennan Camp spurning a good chance after rising highest to meet Ryan Hill’s in-swinging corner on five minutes, his flicked header at the near post just a little too high.
The same couldn’t be said for Edwards’ attempt that followed on 11 minutes, the winger playing a seamless one-two with Kami Doyle in the opposition’s box before firing his effort from a tight angle low into the left corner of Joe McDonnell’s net. A truly sublime phase of play to break the deadlock.
Spurred on by their first, Dave Horseman’s men quickly began hunting down a second, Lewis Payne stealing back the ball in his right-back position midway through the first half before aggressively driving down the line and finding Will Ferry on the opposite wing, his subsequent strike across goal forcing McDonnell into action.
Seven minutes later and Eastleigh’s stopper would find his gloves dirtied again, this time showing impressive reach to tip Doyle’s whipped free-kick from 25 yards onto the crossbar.
Strangely, not two minutes later and Hill would replicate the effort down the other end, he too lifting a free-kick from similar distance onto the top of Southampton’s crossbar this time, although Jack Bycroft seemed confident of the balls final destination.
In an end-to-end game that refused the crowd even a second to catch their breath, Saints would test McDonnell yet again before the half was up, the home stopper producing another outstanding save to keep out Jimmy-Jay Morgan’s header from just a couple of yards, somehow deflecting the ball up and onto his crossbar for a second time in 15 minutes.
Despite his heroics, however, the visitors would double their advantage four minutes before the interval, Doyle’s low cross parried out by the goalkeeper towards the edge of his box and into the path of Pearce, with the striker showing fine composure to smash his half-volley down into the turf and ultimately the net.
After an action packed first 45, it seemed unlikely that the second would match it. In reality that wasn’t the case at all, at least according to those dressed in blue.
The home support wasn’t made to wait long for an opening, Langston’s looping ball finding an unchallenged Charlie Carter on the left whose volley from just inside the box rustled the side netting.
Moments later in the 55th minute and the hosts, who were clearly responding positively to manager Lee Bradbury’s half-time team talk, went mightily close once more, Abrahams bending his left-footed effort from outside the box across goal and onto Bycroft’s right post before the goalkeeper recovered quickly to deny Vincent Harper’s follow-up effort moments later.
With the commitment of both teams fitting for a cup final occasion, the next major event of the game was a straight red card. Following a swift Saints break, Morgan was fed clean through by Doyle, going eye-to-eye with McDonnell before being cynically swiped down by Hill just outside the box. The winger didn’t even bother to look at referee Adrian Quelch before beginning his walk toward the tunnel.
With nothing coming of Jake Vokins’s resulting free-kick, Edwards would take the opportunity to rattle the post once more, striking low from a central position just outside the area, reducing McDonnell to a momentary spectator.
With the minutes ticking by and Southampton edging toward victory, the Spitfires found hope through one of two unnamed trialists being tested in their matchday squad, number 16’s mazy dribble into the box illegally stopped by Pearce’s late lunge.
Shouldering responsibility from the spot, Abrahams would halve his team’s deficit, planting his effort firmly down the middle as Bycroft dived left.
With the game on a knife edge it was Eastleigh, boosted by the roar of their 500-strong home crowd, who drew the score level with eight minutes to play, Langston showing bravery to get his head to a loose ball amid a goal-mouth scramble following a corner, nodding his effort home beyond a sea of red and white shirts.
Despite their admirable late efforts and gutsy performance, Saints' youngsters would be made to share the spoils come full time, but nevertheless produced a display that was rich in quality as their pre-season preparations continue.