Southampton’s B team maintained an unbeaten start to their 2022/23 Premier League 2 campaign on Friday, as they claimed victory over Stoke City at St George’s Park.
After an energetic start to the action, it was Southampton that drew first blood on a glorious evening in East Staffordshire.
With Diamond Edwards crossing in an inch perfect pass to Jimmy Jay Morgan inside the area, Bellis was there to recover possession and strike a low, bouncing shot into the bottom right-hand corner to give Saints the advantage approaching the half-hour mark.
It didn’t take long for a second to follow, with Bellis converting a free-kick even James Ward-Prowse would be proud of to extend Saints’ lead to two shortly before the break.
Chances were few and far between for Saints in the second half, but a strike from Luke Pearce in additional time added a third and secured all three points on a successful Friday evening.
It was a fantastic individual effort as Pearce controlled the ball twice with his head before turning to strike from a difficult angle into the back of the net.
Dave Horseman made two changes to the side that secured an impressive victory over West Brom last time out with Ollie Wright coming in in place of Mateusz Lis between the sticks, while Jake Vokins replaced Matt Carson at the back.
It took some time for Horseman’s side to find their footing at St George’s Park, before the high press they’ve become renowned for in recent fixtures came into play.
Vokins was at the heart of many of the early attacks for Horseman’s side, proving a real threat down the right flank for Saints. While fierce on the press, none of his teammates were able to seize the opportunity in front of goal.
With 23 minutes played, Jimmy Jay Morgan saw his acrobartic effort tipped away by Blondy Nna Noukeu, ensuring the deadlock remained.
Saints looked threatening from the resulting corner, though, with the towering presence of Dynel Simeu posing a threat, though he was unable to get his header down and on target. The visitors soon profited off of their high press as Bellis recovered the ball from Morgan to send Saints into the lead.
The 19-year-old came close to finding a second moments later, with his effort rolling just wide of the post.
The second soon came, though, with a sublime free-kick effortlessly finding the back of the net to double Saints’ lead and keep momentum firmly in their favour heading into the break.
Opposing tactics from the two manager’s at half-time, perhaps reflective of the score. Kevin Russell opted to make two substitutions after the break, while Horseman remained with his starting XI.
With less than ten minutes of the second half played, Saints looked certain to extend their lead further.
Dom Ballard, so frequently the hero for Horseman’s side, found himself two-yards-out in front of an open goal but his header flew over the crossbar.
With the hour mark passed and Saints remaining on top, Morgan once again saw his effort denied by Nna Noukeu, with his low drive retrieved by the Stoke goalkeeper.
The momentum soon shifted, with the clock winding down and attention slipping, Stoke nearly found their way back into the game.
As the hosts piled on the pressure, Horseman opted for his first change of the contest as Luke Pearce replaced Dom Ballard to freshen up the Saints attack.
Ben Kershaw came close to finding the net as Wright was forced into a save before Jacob Holland-Wilkinson’s shot was deflected inches wide of Wright’s post.
The opportunities for the hosts came thick and fast, with substitute Holland-Wilkinson seeing his headed effort bounce off the crossbar.
With a lull in the action, both manager's turned to their bench to inject pace back into the affair. Three changes for Dave Horseman who brought on Olly Lancashire, Ryan Finnigan and Zuriel Otseh-Taiwo for Dynel Simeu, Cameron Bragg and goalscorer Sam Bellis ensured a change in momentum.
The changes proved successful ones for Saints, who saw their advantage extended through Luke Pearce's additional time goal with three points firmly secured as the sun set over St George's Park.
Saints next face Norwich City at Snows Stadium on Friday 26 August, with kick-off scheduled for 7pm BST.