A youthful Southampton's B team suffered defeat at high-flying Fulham on Friday night as the search for the first Premier League 2 win of the season continues.
The first half was an entertaining battle between two confident sides, with chances at either end, but Fulham were the team who took the lead in the 39th minute.
Kieron Bowie found space inside the six-yard box before finishing first time after getting on the end of a low cross.
The game started to run away from the visitors early into the second half; Jay Stansfield scoring two in two minutes via crosses from the right flank to make it 3-0 before the 54th minute.
Both sides made changes to their side lining up on Friday evening, but dipped into very different levels of experience.
A number of injuries meant Dave Horseman called upon Under-18s regulars in Matt Carson and Kamari Doyle from the start, alongside Dom Ballard, Jem Hewlett and Fedel Ross-Lang who made up the substitutes bench.
The changes for the hosts proved slightly more senior. First team members Steven Sessegnon, Tyrese Francois and Jay Stansfield all lining up for the Cottagers.
Fulham started the game as many would have expected following their unbeaten Premier League 2 form thus far; a well-won free kick from the left after just two minutes being just over-hit as it looked for the back post.
Next came a shot following a fast break for Kieron Bowie, which skimmed Jack Bycroft’s gloves but was ultimately an easy palm away for the Saints keeper.
The early attacks kept coming from the hosts, Olly Lancashire forced into drastic action to prevent a right-sided counter resulting in the game’s first booking on five minutes.
If there were to be a positive for the visitors from this one-sided opening ten minutes it’s that it showcased the defensive steel of this side. The likes of Dynel Simeu, Carson and Kegs Chauke amongst those making key challenges inside their own half.
As the twenty-minute mark came into the fray Saints began to grow into the game.Ramello Mitchell, Kazeem Olaigbe and Kami Doyle looking to push their side forward with neat some interplays.
But the first big chance of the game fell to Fulham centre-back Idris Odutayo following a corner, who glanced his header just wide of Bycroft’s far post.
A neat Saints moved formed the response in the 22nd minute; Zuriel Otseh-Taiwo bursting down the left wing before feeding Jayden Smith, who was just beaten to the ball by a well-timed Marlon Fossey challenge.
The early penalised challenge seemed to have taken its toll on Lancashire, who had to be replaced in the same minute as the last attack by youngster Hewlett with an injury.
Saints continued to push with Olaigbe winning and then taking a free-kick which forced keeper Taye Ashby-Hammond into a superb save down to his right.
Whilst Fulham undoubtedly had the better of the first twenty minutes, it was the visitors who were now turning the screw. Otseh-Taiwo involved again down the right with a cross which almost caught Ashby-Hammond out at the back post.
Then came a huge let off for Saints.
Ollie O’Neill rounding Bycroft following a short defensive back pass, but somehow not managing to find the open net as the ball steered wide of the far post.
Another chance fell to the hosts and O’Neill with ten minutes of the half remaining; a low ball across the penalty area finding the striker whose low effort was well held by Bycroft.
After showing his attacking exploits, Otseh-Taiwo then showed off his defensive nouse too. The full-back putting in a perfectly timed last-ditch challenge to deny a certain goal for O’Neil, who was played through by a Sonny Hilton’s through ball.
In the 39th minute the latest spell of Cottagers pressure got it’s reward. A low cross finding Bowie inside the penalty area who couldn’t miss from six yards out.
This didn’t dampen Saints spirit, however, as the visitors came close not once, but twice in quick succession as half time loomed.
First Mitchell found space behind the Fulham defence, but was denied by Ashby-Hammond from a tight angle.
Then came a long-range effort from Chauke, who tested the hosts’ shot stopper but nothing more with three minutes of additional time announced soon after.
But as the rain came down stronger than it had done all game so far, the referee blew his whistle with Fulham having the advantage.
Following some quick-fire early second half corners for the hosts Saints got into their stride once more. Olaigbe hitting a fierce strike on the turn towards goal on 48 minutes which had to be turned over.
There huge shouts in minute 50th minute for a Saints penalty after an apparent handball, which were waved away amongst the protests by referee Quelch.
Then came a hammer blow from the hosts, a low Fossey cross turned in off the post thanks to Stansfield first-time finish.
Two minutes later it was three. Stansfield converting his second of the evening in what was a carbon copy move via full-back Fossey on the right flank.
Whilst the visitors responded well to going behind in the first half, the nature of the quickfire goals had clearly had an effect on Horseman’s side, who struggled to get a hold of the ball in the minutes following.
Fulham looked the more likely of the two sides to add to the scoreline; substitute Luke Harris hitting the post with a cross-goal shot in the 70th minute, after a passage of the game that was contested almost entirely in the middle of the park.
Chauke had another effort from range in the 72nd minute as Saints began to press the Cottagers once more. A shot which Ashby-Hammond held well despite its combination of pace and power.
The next opportunity came via a set-piece; Fulham’s Adrion Pajaziti taking aim from just outside the penalty area but denied thanks to a Bycroft save.
From the resulting corner came yet another shot on target for the hosts; centre-back Idris Odutayo a threat again in the air but Bycroft in the right place as it looked destined for the back post.
As the last ten minutes came into play there was still time for Saints to respond with some chances of their own.
Olaigbe again at the heart of the move, which involved Chauke and Mitchell too, dragging his 89th minute shot wide from just outside of the penalty area.
But ultimately the game had been won in the early minutes of the second half, meaning Saints are still looking for their first win of the season despite plenty of positives once again on Friday night.
Luckily there’s an opportunity to impress in a different competition just four days away for Horseman’s side, as a trip to League Two side Leyton Orient in the Papa John’s Trophy beckons on Tuesday.