Southampton booked their place in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup as 21-year-old Dan Nlundulu netted his first goal for the side to earn them a 2-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town at St Mary’s.
Buoyed by the chance to face Arsenal in the fourth round this weekend both sides were positive in their approach, but it was Saints who showed the greater attacking prowess and ultimately came out on top.
Nlundulu struck early for Saints and it was none other than James Ward-Prowse who was on target late on with a trademark free-kick to grab a second and get the team’s FA Cup campaign off to a great start.
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s squad was down to the bare bones in the absence of Danny Ings, Jannik Vestergaard, Oriol Romeu, Nathan Redmond, Moussa Djenepo and Mohammed Salisu, with just four players from Saturday’s fixture at King Power Stadium keeping their places in the starting XI, as Saints fielded a mixture of both youth and experience.
Fraser Forster returned to the starting line-up after his impressive display against champions Liverpool, while Yan Valery, Jake Vokins, Shane Long and Nlundulu started at St Mary’s. Hasenhüttl also handed senior debuts to Academy products Caleb Watts and Kegs Chauke.
It was only the third FA Cup meeting between the two sides – with Saints coming up trumps on both occasions previously, and, unsurprisingly, it was the home side who were in command of the ball in the early stages against their League One opponents.
Saints controlled the game from the outset, quick feet from debutant Watts setting up Vokins, who forced Shrewsbury’s goalkeeper Matija Sarkic to tip the ball over the top for a corner.
It wasn’t long until Hasenhüttl's side made the breakthrough, though. On his first start for Saints, Nlundulu broke the deadlock just 16 minutes in as he fired the ball low across goal and past Wolves loanee Sarkic after cleverly working space in the area.
VAR was on hand to add some doubt, but after a quick check for handball, Nlundulu’s first senior goal stood.
The visitors remained undeterred by the goal, though, and almost provided an instant response, as Josh Vela fired a shot from long range over the crossbar.
At the other end, debutant Watts then had a chance to make a name for himself but could not keep his shot down from 20 yards.
The visitors showed no sign of slowing down as the game entered the final 15 minutes of the first half and Forster was forced to make a fine save to deny Shaun Whalley the equaliser., although a late flag would have denied him anyway.
Shrewsbury then came close to an equaliser when Harry Chapman’s cross from the right wing took a massive deflection off Jack Stephens, but a collective sigh of relief was breathed as the ball headed behind for a corner.
Shortly after, Saints were back in the ascendancy, as Shane Long perfectly chested down a long ball, only for a last-ditch tackle from Matthew Pennington to deny him.
The first-half statistics highlighted Saints’ dominance, but with the scoreline at 1-0 the visitors were still very much in contention.
It was a quiet start to the second half with the booking of debutant Chauke the only thing to note early on.
The visitors did threaten an equaliser through the attack of Chapman once more, but his shot went high and wide.
Upon the hour mark, Ward-Prowse fired in a corner and Saints came excruciatingly close to their second as Stephens got on the end of the delivery at close range, only for Sarkic to make another crucial save, as a one-goal difference remained.
There was then almost a dream moment for Watts, as he was picked out in space by Vokins’s cutback, but Sarkic saved his effort across goal before Aaron Pierre somehow hooked the ball off the line after it rebounded back towards the net.
Pierre could have then been a hero at the other end, but he couldn’t convert Shaun Whalley’s dangerous free-kick.
Just a couple of minutes later, Whalley had another opportunity to knock the ball in from a set piece and, after a terrific delivery towards Pennington, the ball edged behind for another Shrewsbury corner.
Saints dealt with the pressure, but, with just one goal in it, Hasenhüttl laid out his intentions as Ché Adams and Stuart Armstrong came on with just over ten minutes left to play.
It wasn’t long before the experienced Armstrong made an impact, firing just wide from 20 yards. It was then time for Adams to step up to the plate, as he was played through on goal, but, after skipping past the keeper he took too long over his finish and was denied by the exceptional defending of Pierre again.
With just minutes left to play, Ward-Prowse lined up another set piece and, in his own true style, bent the ball over the wall and into the corner of the net, sealing Saints’ passage into the fourth round of the FA Cup.
With a host of Academy players already on the pitch, Hasenhüttl then also sent on Alexandre Jankewitz and Ryan Finnigan to make their senior debuts, completing another memorable night for the club’s youngsters, as they helped ensure it was Saints who marched on to Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup fourth-round tie with Arsenal.