A youthful Southampton B team side consisting of several Under-18s regulars pushed high-flying Norwich all the way in Premier League 2, but ultimately were defeated on a thrilling Friday night.
Saints were the victims of a rapid Norwich double in the seventh and eighth minutes, as Tom Dickson-Peters and John Lowe rushed their side into a two-goal lead via their first attempts at goal.
The lead was halved just eight minutes later, Kazeem Olaigbe adding to his seven goals this season with another that could be considered one of his best from the edge of the penalty area.
Despite spells of Saints pressure the game’s third goal fell the way of the hosts, Flynn Clarke taking a touch before finding the far corner on the half hour mark.
Even as far as recent weeks were concerned Friday night’s Saints line-up was particularly youthful. The likes of Matt Carson, Cam Bragg and Jem Hewlett coming into the side from the Under-18s set-up.
Amongst the Canaries line-up was the division’s top scorer, Dickson-Peters, who already had twelve goals going into the game at Lotus training ground.
Despite the difference in ages it was Saints who had the opening chances. First Jayden Smith broke into the box before looking to square across goal which resulted in a corner.
From the resulting set-piece came another opportunity. Dynel Simeu meeting the ball at the back post but on the stretch, unable to direct his header goalward amongst the crowd.
But despite the fast start Norwich raced into a two-goal lead from their first two attacks.
First a cross towards the back post by Abu Kamara was met by Dickson-Peters, who headed towards goal forcing Jack Bycroft into a scrambling save.
Despite claims it was kept out the linesman disagreed, meaning the hosts had the lead on seven minutes and didn’t take long to add a second.
A cross from the same side followed a minute later, full-back Oscar Thorn finding an unmarked Lowe who curled his shot around an onrushing Bycroft to double the advantage.
But the visitors didn’t back down, halving the hosts’ advantage just eight minutes later with a strike of pure quality.
Smith kept possession in a tight area before laying the ball off to Olaigbe, who took a touch before firing past keeper Dylan Berry with a hit which epitomised the young Belgian’s quality.
From then on Saints enjoyed a spell of real pressure, pushing Norwich back and coming inches away from finding the runs of Dom Ballard and Smith who hung on the last man.
But again, despite the visitors’ pressure, Norwich continued to prove clinical on the break.
This time Tony Springett found space to cut inside from the right, before feeding Clarke who restored his side’s two goal lead off the post.
Another Norwich break almost resulted in a fourth as half-time beckoned. Kamara being fed through only to see the ball marshalled out by an alert Simeu who followed his man all the way.
Saints ended the half strongly, keeping their hosts pegged back but unable to find that final pass which would cut the deficit once more.
It was the visitors who started the second half the brighter too. Smith latching onto a short pass inside the Norwich half which put him through one-on-one against Berry, forcing a good save from the Canaries keeper.
Saints’ momentum could have taken a hit on the hour mark, where Jack Turner, recently back from injury himself, had to be replaced as Sonnie Davis came on for his B team debut.
But the pressure continued to build despite the stoppage, Kami Doyle letting fly from the edge of the box and forcing Berry into a fine diving save.
Next was a glancing header from Ballard after connecting with Davis’ cross, which just missed the far corner.
Norwich remained a threat on the break, something Dickson-Peters reminded Saints of on 70 minutes as he looked to round off a fast move with a shot from a tight angle that just missed the target.
Dave Horseman looked to substitute Luke Pearce with less than 20 minutes to go, who was looking to continue his record of scoring in every B team appearance.
Instead it was Olaigbe who was next to try his luck, finding that same space as Doyle had done minute prior and forcing Berry into an equally strong save.
Norwich broke again on 74 minutes, this time Springett looking to finish the fast break with a strike along the floor. Well claimed by Bycroft.
That final ball continued the elude Saints going forward. Olaigbe attempting to feed Ballard on 83 minutes but his pass had just enough power on it for Berry to come and collect.
Finally the visitors managed to find that final touch, Ballard and Pearce involved in a bundle in front of the Norwich net before the former found space and fired home to set up the final five minutes perfectly.
It only took three minutes for Horseman’s side to carve another opportunity. Doyle’s free kick finding Simeu at the far post who could only find the side netting.
The comeback was seemingly halted in its tracks in the first minute of stoppage time, when substitute Hills headed past Bycroft at the back post.
But Saints responded again, Doyle over another free kick which fell to Hewlett at the far post. The young centre back adding a third as stoppage time rolled on.
Despite their best efforts, Norwich came away with the victory. But it was a performance Saints could be proud of.
Their last fixture of the year comes on December 22nd, when AFC Bournemouth visit Snows Stadium in the Premier League Cup.