Southampton’s B team sealed their place in the Premier League 2 playoffs with a win over Stoke City at Staplewood.
The scores were goalless at half time despite chances for both sides, as Saints had a first half finish ruled out for offside.
James Bree eventually broke the deadlock in the second half with a powerful, low effort from the edge of the area.
Dom Ballard sealed the victory soon after with a confident chip over the goalkeeper to score his 23rd goal across all age groups this season.
There was a welcome return to action for Tino Livramento, who stepped out in a Saints shirt for the first time in 355 days following his return from a lengthy ACL injury.
Elsewhere, Adam Armstrong and Bree also added first team experience in a forward pairing with Ballard and a defensive duo with Olly Lancashire respectively.
It was a fairly measured start as both sides got to grips with the slick Staplewood surface; Saints managed to win several free-kicks as their quick footwork got the better of Stoke’s defence.
It was the visitors who carved out the first real opportunity in front of goal, however, as Kahrel Reddin did well to create space on the right wing and fire a low shot into Ollie Wright’s clutches.
Saints hit back with a nice move between the lively attacking quartet as Armstrong and Ballard combined with Kamari Doyle and Sam Amo-Ameyaw, with the latter hitting a shot on the turn that was blocked away.
Moments later, Doyle had an effort of his own from the edge of the area that was held by Tommy Jackson in the Stoke goal.
Livramento’s first attacking involvement of his comeback game came in the 22nd minute, with a positive cross after beating his opponent on the right.
Stoke’s most dangerous outlet continued to come through Reddin, who had another effort saved by Wright on the half hour mark.
It was Saints who managed to find the back of the net with five minutes of the half to play, only to be denied by the offside flag; Doyle threaded a pass to Livramento, whose first time cross reached Ballard for a simple finish that was unfortunately chalked off.
Down the other end of the field, Wright had to stay alert again to palm a shot behind for a corner before Amo-Ameyaw tried his luck once more with the final effort of a very competitive half.
Tempers briefly flared in injury time as Gabriel Adebambo went in for a fierce 50/50 challenge on Livramento, but fortunately the returning Saints defender walked away unscathed before his pre-agreed half time substitution.
The second half began as lively as the first finished with an early opening for Armstrong after another neat pass from Doyle, but the striker’s shot was met by an equally strong save.
Stoke were well in the game and were denied by more fine goalkeeping as Wright managed to catch and hold a powerful header from Douglas James-Taylor.
It took until just after the hour mark for the next opening to appear as more spells of passing play were starting to open up for Saints.
Jayden Meghoma was played in on the left wing and found Ballard in the area, who couldn’t quite finish in a crowded penalty area.
A glaring opportunity then followed for Stoke as several bodies were free from a corner, but the eventual header was glanced wide.
The visitors were made to rue that chance less than a minute later as the deadlock was finally broken; another impressive team move, which started in Saints’ own half, ended in Bree powering the ball into the bottom right corner from the edge of the box.
Saints could breathe a sigh of relief after finding the opener and remained on top for the rest of the game as the lead was doubled in the 76th minute.
A smart pass from Alex Stepien-Iwumene slipped in Ballard who confidently chipped the ball over the onrushing Jackson and into the back of the net.
With five minutes remaining Saints somehow missed out on a third as Ballard slipped and couldn’t connect with a pass across goal to add to his tally.
The lively Amo-Ameyaw then skipped past two Stoke defenders but fired over from range as he couldn’t quite add his name to the scoresheet.
The two-goal lead proved to be enough as Saints secured a playoff finish heading into the final game of the season, as they travel to Norwich City next Sunday, 23rd April.
Southampton: Oliver Wright, Tino Livramento (Lewis Payne 46), Jayden Meghoma, James Bree, Olly Lancashire (Matthew Carson 46), Cameron Bragg, Dom Ballard, Alex Stepien-Iwumene, Adam Armstrong (Jay Robinson 72), Kamari Doyle [c] (Josh Squires 75), Samuel Amo-Ameyaw.
Unused subs: Lewis Payne, Jak Stewart.
Goals: Bree, Ballard.
Stoke City: Tommy Jackson, Lewis Macari [c], Gabriel Adebambo, George Lewis, David Okagbue, Luke Badley-Morgan (Jayden Mears 54), Kahrel Reddin, Will Smith, Douglas James-Taylor, Jacob Holland-Wilkinson (Dara McGuiness 64), Jack Griffiths.
Unused subs: Josh Roney, Sonny Singh.