Southampton's B team's return to Premier League 2 action ended in defeat at West Ham on Friday night.
West Ham took the lead against the run of play in the 26th minute after a strong Saints start, Mipo Odubeko finishing off a fast break counter to give the hosts the lead.
The hosts’ second came in the 38th minute, Odubeko once again the man to finish off the counter with an emphatic close-range finish.
Kazeem Olaigbe got Saints’ first just past the hour mark; Ryan Finnigan closing down the Hammers defence well before finding Olaigbe who made no mistake with a curled finish.
But any sort of comeback was quickly quashed by another West Ham counter twenty minutes from time, as Daniel Chesters made it three with a near-post finish.
Saints fielded a completely new look side to the one which took to the field at Snows Stadium last-time-out.
The likes of Nathan Tella, Will Smallbone, Tyreke Johnson and Caleb Watts all missed out due to injuries, first-team involvement and outgoing transfers in recent weeks.
This gave an opportunity for a few under-18s regulars to impress; Zuriel Otseh-Taiwo, Sam Bellis and Lucas Defise all starting.
West Ham’s outfit included their own share of first-team experience, 32-year-old Winston Reid starting at centre-back, alongside Jamal Baptiste and Oladapo Afolayan who both received a call-up for David Moyes’s side in recent weeks.
It was the visitors who got off to the faster start, Will Ferry bursting down the left flank and firing an effort just over Joseph Anang’s goal from a tight angle after six minutes.
West Ham’s first effort at Jack Bycroft’s goal, who recently returned from a loan spell at National League side Weymouth, came in the 21st minute; Afolayan’s free kick well caught by the Saints keeper.
Saints dominated the early possession and spent most of the first half an hour in the West Ham half.
Lucas Defise burst through the middle of the park on 25 minutes, but his through ball intended for Olaigbe was just off the mark.
Minutes later the home side countered and took the lead.
Odubeko the final man to touch the ball after a fast break, showing composure to slot past Bycroft.
But the opener certainly didn’t damage Saints’ spirit; Otseh-Taiwo breaking with pace down the right flank and firing his effort just over the bar from a similar angle to Ferry’s earlier effort.
Next up was Ferry, who was first to react to a poor Hammers clearance before seeing his drilled effort deflected wide of the far post.
But the visitors would get undone by another fast counter from the hosts; Odubeko beating the offside trap before firing in from close range after a half clearance.
Following the second the Hammers enjoyed a lot more of the ball, winning a couple of corners as the game went into first-half stoppage time.
With Moyes watching on from the stand at Rush Green the game got back underway for the second half, with Saints having a mountain to climb.
Ferry continued to provide a threat for Dave Horseman’s side down the left wing as he produced a few more early crosses into the box to add to his first-half tally.
Saints had a great chance to grab a goal back on 56 minutes; Allan Tchaptchet heading down a deep corner at the back post into the path of Ryan Finnigan who couldn’t find the target on the stretch.
But in the 61st minute Saints soon got their reward for their positive play.
A short pass out the back from West Ham keeper Anang was well closed down by Finnigan, who fed through Olaigbe.
The young forward made no mistake, producing a curled finish into the far corner and giving Saints a foothold in the game.
It was very nearly 2-2 just minutes later; Finnigan involved again at the back post volleying an effort just over the West Ham net.
But another counter from the hosts saw them add a third with twenty minutes to go; Chesters the man this time to finish off the move.
Once more Saints reacted; Ferry using his pace to get away from the Hammers midfield and fire an effort towards goal, only to see his effort fly just over.
Otseh-Taiwo also looked to help Saints back into the fixture, replicating Ferry’s pace, energy and willingness to beat his man on the right wing.
As the clock ticked down Horseman’s side continued to dominate possession, producing neat one-two passes and moving up the pitch well and with pace.
Bellis looked to be on the receiving end of one of these flowing moves in the 90th minute, but saw his shot well saved by Anang who closed the young striker down.
But despite the possession it was West Ham who came away with three points, having made their chances count.
Saints will look to bounce back next Sunday, with Tottenham Hotspur visiting Snows Stadium.