Southampton booked their place in the Carabao Cup fourth round after coming through a high-class penalty shoot-out against Sheffield Wednesday at St Mary’s.
After being held to a 1-1 draw by the League One promotion chasers over 90 minutes, Alex McCarthy saved Fisayo Dele-Bashiru’s penalty – the only miss out of 12 spot-kicks, as Saints prevailed 6-5.
The hosts fell behind in a below-par first-half performance to Josh Windass’s 24th-minute opener, and were fortunate to be on level terms when James Ward-Prowse buried a timely spot-kick on the stroke of half time after Moussa Djenepo was upended in the box.
The second period was one-way traffic, as a much-improved Saints side piled on the pressure, but Theo Walcott was twice denied by goal-line clearances and Stuart Armstrong rattled the crossbar as Wednesday took the tie to penalties.
But after Ward-Prowse, Mohamed Elyounoussi, Ibrahima Diallo, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Adam Armstrong and Walcott all scored, McCarthy denied Dele-Bashiru with his legs to send Saints through to the last 16 on a night when Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham all exited the competition.
First team lead coach Rubén Sellés, in interim charge following the departure of Ralph Hasenhüttl as manager on Monday, made wholesale changes from Hasenhüttl’s last line-up – nine in total.
The two survivors were the skipper, Ward-Prowse, and Mohammed Salisu, who started the game at left-back.
Elsewhere, there was a first start for Samuel Edozie on the left wing, with Sékou Mara supported by Adam Armstrong up front.
Edozie, always confident, was straight on the attack when he breezed past Callum Paterson, before his dangerous cross forced Michael Ihiekwe into an awkward clearance that only just evaded his own crossbar.
Wednesday, third in League One, gained some belief when Windass was allowed to run in behind the Saints defence and shoot too close to McCarthy, though the keeper’s save was unconvincing and conceded a corner.
McCarthy was called upon again after 18 minutes from Barry Bannan’s snapshot that he pushed aside at his near post, before the former Scottish international tried his luck once more – this time a half-volley from 35 yards. Whilst it sailed harmlessly wide, it underlined the Owls’ intent.
Saints were not asserting themselves, and paid the price on 24 minutes when Fisayo Dele-Bashiru sent Windass clear, who this time made no mistake with an accomplished finish past McCarthy from 12 yards.
The hosts’ brightest spark was Edozie, who skinned Paterson again, this time forcing him into a foul that saw him booked.
From Ward-Prowse’s resulting free-kick, Joe Aribo’s header looked certain to level the scores, only for David Stockdale to produce an outstanding one-handed save.
Not content to sit on their lead, Wednesday’s counter-attacking was a problem for Saints, as Windass again tested McCarthy before seeing another shot blocked.
This was not a good half for the heavy pre-match favourites, but in Edozie there was a constant threat who scared the life out of the visitors, nutmegging his next victim before going down rather too easily – something Mara was accused of by the travelling fans when he jinked inside Mark McGuinness. There was definitely contact in the box, but Saints’ youngsters need to show they can be more robust.
The next time a white shirt was sent to ground in the box, it paved the way for Ward-Prowse to equalise, as Djenepo’s surge to the byline tempted Marvin Johnson to dangle a leg, prompting the skipper to blast the resulting spot-kick straight down the middle as Stockdale dived to his right.
Despite being on level terms, Saints could only get better after the interval, and Adam Armstrong was the chief beneficiary of their instant improvement with three chances in the first 12 minutes of the second period.
First he sent a curling right-footed shot wide with time to set himself near the left corner of the box, before he was rushed into dragging one wide on his left foot.
Then a bouncing ball fell invitingly for him to strike as he found space in behind the defence in the right channel, but he fired into the side-netting.
With Romain Perraud having replaced Salisu at half time, giving Saints a natural left-back, Sellés made two further changes on the hour, as Maitland-Niles and Walcott replaced Djenepo and Aribo.
Walcott was straight into the action, immediately having two chances to score, as Stockdale presented the substitute with the ball when Walcott timed his press to perfection to steal in front of his man, but his low shot was cleared off the line by the covering Ihiekwe, who then repeated the trick when Walcott pounced on the loose ball and beat Stockdale once more.
Meanwhile, on the opposite flank, with Edozie’s influence waning, the 19-year-old was replaced by Elyounoussi with 20 minutes left, as Saints smelt blood with Wednesday retreating.
By now the game was being played almost exclusively in the visitors’ half, but Walcott arrowed another effort past the far post as Saints continued to be frustrated.
Another substitute, Stuart Armstrong, thought he’d won it four minutes from time when Ward-Prowse laid a wide free-kick into his path, but the Scot’s thunderous shot struck the underside of the crossbar, rebounding at such a pace that Duje Ćaleta-Car could not direct the ball on target from close range as he followed it in.
With five added minutes signalled, Walcott threatened once again when he raced on to Elyounoussi’s through ball and appeared to be brought down by last man Reece James, but his honesty in trying to stay on his feet perhaps cost Saints the decision, adding to the irritation of the vast majority inside St Mary’s.
There was still time for one more chance when Stuart Armstrong set off on a barnstorming run down the right, pulling the ball back for Walcott, who peeled away smartly only to see his shot repelled by Stockdale, prompting referee John Brooks to immediately blow his whistle and send the tie to a shoot-out.
Cue an exhibition in penalty taking, as Stockdale was convincingly beaten by all six Saints penalties, before McCarthy, who got a strong hand to Wednesday’s second kick, saved the sixth to secure the victory.