Southampton’s B team picked up an important win over West Bromwich Albion in Premier League 2, as they maintain their position at the top of the table.
Kamari Doyle got Saints off to the perfect start in the 10th minute, firing a pinpoint free-kick into the bottom left corner from the edge of the area.
The lead was doubled before half time through Dom Ballard, who won and converted a penalty to notch his 20th goal across all age groups this season.
West Brom pulled a goal back in the second half through Akeel Higgins, but Saints held firm and managed the game out to claim the victory.
Dave Horseman’s youthful side featured two changes from their dramatic draw against Sunderland last time out, as Will Armitage replaced Olly Lancashire in defence whilst Joe Andrews came into midfield in place of Jay Robinson.
In an exciting attacking quartet, Doyle and Ballard led the line in front of Tyler Dibling and Sam Amo-Ameyaw.
The hosts got off to a strong start, looking to close the gap at the top of the table as they forced an early flurry of corners.
An Albion header that rebounded to allow a follow-up effort was the closest attempt, as Saints had to ride out an instant scare.
Horseman’s side quickly pushed back with purposeful, driving runs which eventually led to the game’s opening goal.
Dibling surged forward and found Doyle, who was brought down on the edge of the area in scoring territory as he picked himself up to take aim.
Just as first team skipper James Ward-Prowse had done two days earlier, Saints B’s own set piece specialist stepped up and whipped in a perfect free-kick that nestled into the bottom left corner to open the scoring.
West Brom were struggling to contain a Saints side that were growing with confidence after the opener and Sonnie Davis came close to doubling the lead as he drilled a low shot from the edge of the box just wide.
Ballard’s first sight at goal followed shortly after, but his low shot was saved by Ronnie Hollingshead in the Albion goal.
The hosts hit back and had a wonderful chance to equalise as a pass across the box rolled perfectly to Reyes Cleary, whose curling effort whistled just past the far post.
Up the other end, Ballard sensed his 20th goal of the season was nearing as he beat a defender inside the area with some neat close control but saw his angled shot cleared off the line by a recovering defender.
Saints’ striker didn’t have to wait much longer, however, as he was handed the ideal opportunity to double the lead.
After being fouled in the penalty area, Ballard dusted himself down, stepped up, and calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.
Saints took a deserved lead into the break, which could have been extended in stoppage time as Doyle blasted over from the edge of the area, but the hosts came out of the blocks fast again.
In the opening exchanges of the second half, Higgins fired a shot over the crossbar after Saints failed to clear inside the area, before Cleary did the same after he was picked out at the far post by a fantastic cross by Jovan Malcolm.
The pressure from West Brom was rewarded in the 65th minute as Higgins latched on to a loose ball inside the box, took a touch and stayed composed to finish into the bottom left corner.
As the game became more stretched, chances to extend the lead went begging for Saints; Amo-Ameyaw was denied space to shoot by a late sliding block before Doyle hit a low effort straight at the goalkeeper from distance.
Ollie Wright was called into action in the 70th minute as he had to be alert to gather a snapshot from Rico Richards.
Saints remained dangerous on the counter and Dibling went close with a vicious drive from range that was tipped over the crossbar.
Amo-Ameyaw was next to try his luck after a sweeping move, but he could only drag his shot narrowly wide of the far post.
Horseman’s youngsters did have the ball in the back of the net in the closing stages as Armitage bundled home from a corner, only to be denied by the linesman’s flag.
In the tense closing minutes, Ballard capitalised on a defensive error and lobbed the keeper but the ball dropped agonisingly wide of the post.
Saints kept their cool and managed the game out with maturity beyond their years as they ensured that all three points returned to Hampshire and they maintained their top spot in the league.