Southampton’s B team kick-started their Premier League 2, Division 2 campaign on Monday with victory over Nottingham Forest.
After an impressive pre-season, including clashes with Villarreal and Cartagena during a training camp in Spain, Dave Horseman’s men were primed and ready for the new season when they arrived at Meadow Lane on Monday.
A mixture of youth and experience, Saints’ first starting XI of the 2022/23 season boasted the likes of Kayne Ramsay and Dynel Simeu at the back, with Dom Ballard and Diamond Edwards leading the charge up front.
It was a game of two halves at Meadow Lane, with neither side able to find the breakthrough in the first before an enthralling start to the second.
Dom Ballard opened the scoring for Saints just seconds after kick-off, and while it took a deflection off of Jordan Smith on the way in, it was the perfect start for Dave Horseman’s men.
The hosts reaction was instant, with Alex Mighten finding the back of the net before Ballard regained the lead, with a wonderful chip to make it two in two minutes.
Jack Turner was next to impress, with a fantastic strike from range travelling low to make it three.
Saints sprinted out of the blocks with Sam Bellis cutting in Ballard in the box from the right flank, though with a little too much power behind the ball, the 17-year-old couldn't monopolise on the early opportunity.
With five minutes of the action played, Bellis earned Saints a free-kick after being bundled over on the right hand side of the area. Up stepped Jake Vokins who looked to provide the chance to give Saints an early advantage, but an awaiting Edwards failed to make contact in the box.
While Saints started the more energetic of the two sides, it was Forest who grew into the game and produced the biggest threats of the opening half.
A move started by Aaron Donnelly on the counter ultimately fell for Josh Powell whose attempt to cut across goal is vitally intercepted by Simeu.
A period of intense pressure followed from the hosts, with Ollie Wright being put to the test between the sticks. A poor clearance from his line meant Fewster was handed the ball before releasing Ollie Hammond, his shot going high over the crossbar.
Just moments later Loïc Mbe Soh crosses into Hammond who effortlessly found the target. Despite initially getting a hand to the ball, Wright fumbled before eventually regaining composure and consequently, the ball.
The attacks kept on coming from Forest, with an inch-perfect cross-field pass from Donnelly falling perfectly for Powell, whose shot subsequently bounced behind for a corner.
With 20 minutes played, Saints looked to get back into the game with Edwards and Bellis once again linking up down the right before Ballard released a shot at the far post, with only the post there to deny the youngster from opening the scoring.
This period of possession was short-lived for the visitors, who suffered a barrage of attacks in the following moments. Looking increasingly dangerous from the set-piece, captain Fewster found the head of Biancone in the box before his shot took a deflection, bouncing behind for another corner.
Maintaining the pressure, another flawless delivery from Fewster found Biancone who headed down to Donnelly, as his shot narrowly missed out with the post once again denying an opening goal at Meadow Lane.
While Forest remained on top, Saints utilised the right-wing to create a couple of opportunities that produced a glimmer of hope. Lewis Payne saw his shot saved, before Ballard hit the rebound but the save was an easy task for Jordan Smith.
Ballard continued to show his prowess, with an enchanting run down the right-flank but with Saints unable to convert in front of goal, the deadlock remained.
With just five minutes of the first-half remaining, Forest looked to challenge again. Fewster’s strength behind the dead-ball remained as his corner fell for Mangala, whose header fired straight towards Hall, tipping the ball behind for another corner.
Left wanting more after a lacklustre first-half display, Horseman opted to bring Luke Pearce on for Diamond Edwards to freshen up the Saints attack.
A change of pace is certainly what he got, with Dom Ballard scoring almost instantly from the restart. It was a strong charge from the Saints youngster, who fired from just outside the area to find the back of the net.
No sooner had the celebrations finished for Saints did they start for Forest, with Alex Mighton tapping into draw the hosts level.
Undettered by the instant retaliation from their opponents, Saints hit the counter. Impressive build-up play from the men in blue, Ballard found the net once more, this time from close range.
While a couple of minutes of calm followed after the third goal of the contest, it was soon disrupted as Jack Turner consolidated the visitors lead.
Another move from the counter, Turner’s low, bouncing shot was perfectly executed to find the back of the net from 30-yards-out.
Forest looked to find their way back into the contest, with Ollie Wright making a couple of vital saves to prevent the comeback. For just a moment, Forest thought they'd pulled one back after a fumble in the area saw the ball seemingly disappear, but it was comfortably in the hands of Wright.
After a calmer period from Saints, Bellis makes a delightful charge down the centre of the pitch before seeing his shot from outside the area blocked. Waiting on the rebound, Bragg was the next to try his luck from range but found his shot ricocheting off the crossbar.
Saints continued to search for openings to extend their advantage, with Vokins seeing his attempt on goal cleared as Smith left his line. Kayne Ramsay also looked to get himself on the scoresheet, tring to sneak in an effort at the near post.
With the clock winding down, Ballard nearly claimed a hat-trick as he found himself in space inside of the box but failing to make proper contact with the ball, it skimmed wide of the post.
After a disappointing first-half, a strong, attacking display in the second ensured Saints started their Premier League 2 campaign with victory.
Horseman’s side next face West Bromwich Albion at Snows Stadium on Friday, with ticket details as followed:
SFC season ticket holders and AFC Totton season ticket holders free