Saints cruise to victory at Cambridge


Seventeen-year-old striker Dominic Ballard scored on his senior debut to help Southampton cruise through to the third round of the Carabao Cup at Cambridge.

Ché Adams had already taken his tally to four goals in two games with another brace on the road, before Ballard, a 75th-minute substitute, completed the scoring two minutes from time in front of the travelling fans.

In truth, such was Saints’ dominance throughout, the margin of victory should have been more convincing on a notable night for the club’s Academy, as 18-year-old debutant Lewis Payne assisted Adams’s opener inside 16 minutes with an inviting low cross.

The striker’s second goal arrived 10 minutes into the second half, following in Oriol Romeu’s parried shot to ensure Saints’ safe passage to round three and a victorious first ever meeting between the two clubs.

Ralph Hasenhüttl handed a debut to Payne on the right side of a back four, while fellow youngsters Ballard, Diamond Edwards and Dynel Simeu were among the substitutes.

In total there were nine changes to Saints’ starting line-up, with Adam Armstrong and Mohamed Elyounoussi the only survivors from the XI that began the win at Leicester on Saturday.

Alex McCarthy, back in goal, was the only other player yet to feature in the first team this season, as debutant Payne was surrounded by a wealth of Premier League experience.

Adams, full of confidence after his match-winning brace against his hometown club, had the ball in the net inside three minutes, as he controlled Yan Valery’s cross from the left on his chest and buried a low shot in off the far post on the turn, only to be penalised for using his arm in the process.

It was a statement of intent from Saints nonetheless, who were instantly back on the attack, as Mohamed Elyounoussi smartly flicked the ball over the head of a defender, spun and volleyed back across goalkeeper Will Mannion, who got down sharply to his right to deny the Norwegian an extraordinary opener.

Saints were knocking on the door, dismissing the enthusiasm of the home team and an excitable crowd, and duly made their dominance count on 16 minutes.

Adam Armstrong, starting on the left of a three-pronged attack, drifted infield and spread the play nicely to Payne on the right, who had the composure to pick out Adams with an inviting low cross.

When the striker slid in to score from close range, the teenager had an assist on his debut and Adams a third goal in the space of 38 minutes, including his second-half double at the King Power Stadium.

Refusing to sit comfortably despite their lead, Saints pushed for more, as Stuart Armstrong fed namesake Adam, whose cutback deflected off a defender and forced Mannion into a reflex save with his feet, before Stuart Armstrong’s follow-up header was screwed wide on the volley by Ibrahima Diallo.

Beyond the chances created and enterprising attacking play was an impressive steel about this Saints side, who were chasing everything and flying into tackles like the underdogs, showing the same attitude that saw them clock up a club-record away win at this stage of the same competition last season, 8-0 at Newport.

Elyounoussi bagged a hat-trick that night, kick-starting his Saints career in the process, and it was his low cross that nearly forced an own goal when Zeno Ibsen Rossi slid the ball just past Mannion’s left-hand post with the keeper wrong-footed.

Meanwhile, the impressive Payne was involved again when his defence-splitting pass released Adams, who squared the ball in the box for Adam Armstrong, whose first-time shot was heading inside the far post until Rossi dropped back onto the line to clear and deny Saints’ No 9 his first goal of the new season.

For all their problems in dealing with Saints’ intensity, Cambridge were still in the game and raised the noise levels inside The Abbey Stadium when Saikou Janneh hammered a shot into the side-netting.

Janneh, a powerful runner down the left, was ensuring Payne’s senior bow was no easy ride, but the Staplewood graduate continued to impress going forward, both with his athleticism to get up and down the flank and his composure to pick out a teammate in the final third.

The latest occasion, shortly before half time, forced Rossi to make another last-ditch intervention as Saints looked set to double their lead from another Payne cross.

The visitors’ domination continued into the second half, as Adam Armstrong set up Stuart for a sharp shot well held by Mannion.

It would prove only a temporary reprieve for the League One side, whose fans were incensed by Adams’s second goal 10 minutes after the interval.

When Romeu’s 20-yard shot was parried by Mannion only into the path of the Scottish international, he made no mistake, slamming the ball into the net via the keeper’s outstretched arm.

Still Saints were not content to sit back, as captain for the night Romeu spurned a chance to make it three soon after, while Valery was denied by Mannion’s best save to date, a diving one-handed stop down to his left from the Frenchman’s curler.

The travelling supporters, who packed out the stand behind that goal, were proudly making themselves heard, including a rendition of “there’s only one David Armstrong” in memory of the former midfielder who sadly passed away over the weekend.

Hasenhüttl waited until the 66th minute to make changes, withdrawing his entire frontline, as Elyounoussi, Adams and Adam Armstrong were replaced by Joe Aribo, Sékou Mara and Moussa Djenepo.

But it was the introduction of 17-year-old striker Ballard that brought the biggest cheer, replacing Payne, who left the field to cries of “he’s one of our own”.

He was quick to run on to a ball in behind the defence and get a shot away, only to see it blocked by a defender, but it was a fearless start to his senior career.

His big moment was still to come when the ball was cutback from the right and Ballard’s first-time shot was pushed out by Mannion, but those scoring instincts were clear to see as he instantly followed up his own shot and fired into the roof of the net to crown a memorable evening for the Saints Academy, as Edwards also arrived off the bench to become the third debutant of the night deep into stoppage time.