Southampton’s youngsters bowed out of the Premier League Cup with a dramatic 2-2 draw at AFC Bournemouth on Friday night.
After controlling the opening half-an-hour, the visitors were rewarded 10 minutes before the break when Kazeem Olaigbe clinically converted from close range.
A dominant display was further enhanced by Thierry Small’s strike 10 minutes into the second half, before a dramatic conclusion somehow saw the Cherries draw level.
Two Jake Scrimshaw strikes in the space of three minutes devastated the visitors, who bowed out of the competition with a frustrating draw on the Dorset coast.
Fresh from signing an 18-month contract with the club after a successful trial period, defender Nico Lawrence made his first appearance as an official Saint.
Full-back Thierry Small returned to the side after making his first team debut in the Emirates FA Cup win over Coventry last weekend, with Luke Pearce partnering Olaigbe up front fresh from netting the winner at West Brom on Monday.
Unable to progress in the competition heading into the final group stage encounter, Saints appeared far from demotivated as they looked to avenge the 1-0 defeat at Staplewood Campus a fortnight ago.
In a tight opening 10 minutes, both sides enjoyed spells of possession that failed to produce opportunities in the final third, with both goalkeepers virtual spectators.
With the hosts knowing they had to avoid defat first and foremost if they were to advance from the group, it was a cautious approach from the Cherries who were happy to surrender possession and defend from deep.
Plenty of touches for Olaigbe teased that the Belgian’s influence was growing, but it was captain Lewis Payne who almost sparked the game into life.
Cleverly turning his man on the byline to scamper into the box, his cutback narrowly evaded Pearce before Saints’ unnamed trialist was bundled to the floor inside the box, a penalty appeal that was swiftly waved away.
Undeterred, Dave Horseman’s side kept up the pressure and were almost rewarded after 26 minutes.
Small’s low cross found Ethan Burnett 10 yards out, but on the stretch the midfielder could only skew an effort wide of the target.
Now with a monopoly on possession Saints began to camp themselves in the Bournemouth half, and a deserved lead was soon to follow on 36 minutes.
Winning the ball back 20 yards from Cameron Plain’s goal after some relentless pressing, Olaigbe was set free in the box to dispatch an arrow-like effort into the opposite corner.
Finishing the half with confidence there was almost breathing room for the yellows when Small tried his luck from 20 yards, only for Plain to parry the venomous effort behind for a corner to keep his side within distance at the interval.
As the temperature fell in Dorset, Saints remained hot in pursuit of a second goal straight from the restart.
Jack Turner first blazed a strike over the bar, before Olaigbe dragged a snapshot just wide as the high press continued to cause havoc.
A goal for the visitors was feeling increasingly inevitable when Payne saw his shot from 12 yards brilliantly saved by Plain, and the wait was only short.
Working the ball to Small inside the box, the full-back cleverly manoeuvred the ball onto his weaker right foot before dispatching the ball into the top corner on 55 minutes.
Now in complete control of the cup tie, there was a moment for Lawrence to take centre stage on his formal debut.
With Nathan Moriah-Welsh baring down on goal, the defender positioned himself perfectly to throw out a leg and block what looked to be a shot destined for the bottom corner.
Knowing their hopes of progression were waning, the Cherries introduced fresh legs from the bench and in three minutes the game was turned dramatically around by the hosts inside the closing stages.
Hope was firstly reinstalled by Scrimshaw’s poached effort, before the striker won a penalty just moments later in a frantic passage of play.
With Wright getting a hand on the striker’s spot kick only to see it ricochet in off the post, Saints looked stunned to find themselves level against the run of play.
Surviving the unexpected comeback, it was Horseman’s side who rallied late on, seeing Benni Smales-Braithwaite denied by a goal-line clearance to condemn Saints to a frustrating draw.