U18 Report: Ballard hits hat-trick in dramatic FA Youth Cup tie


Southampton Under-18s confirmed their progression in the FA Youth Cup after a dramatic extra-time win over Coventry City.

Striker Dom Ballard netted a hat-trick, with his match-winning strike coming in the 120th minute and sparking wild celebrations with his teammates.

An experienced Saints side started well and knocked the ball around confidently in the early stages. However, it was Coventry who had the first shot on goal.

A quick counter saw Tristen Batanwi twist his way into a shooting position on the left and force Saints goalkeeper Adli Mohamed to palm the firm strike away from danger.

The visitors to Leamington soon created a first opportunity for themselves; after being played through into a shooting position on the right, Sam Amo-Ameyaw was unlucky to see his effort drift narrowly wide of the top corner.

Coventry looked eager to put on a good show in front of their home support though. A goalmouth scramble in the Saints box almost saw the hosts take the lead with 20 minutes on the clock, before home captain Isaac Moore volleyed wide from the next attack.

Saints started to click into gear towards the end of the first-half and had multiple chances to break the deadlock.

A set-piece saw Will Armitage’s header cleared off the line before Tyler Dibling was denied by a superb save from close-range.

The best opportunity of the first period fell to Saints captain Jem Hewlett, but he saw his header from the six-yard line fly over when he connected with a Kamari Doyle corner on 44 minutes.

It was Coventry who began the second-half on top. Striker Charlie Manners went close to finding the breakthrough when he snapped a shot just wide after a swift turn in the Saints box.

The number 9 then had another chance when he looked to take advantage of Mohamed’s fumble, but Hewlett got back to clear the danger.

Kai Andrews also forced a good save from Mohamed after the hosts had won back possession in a dangerous area.

After seeing out a tough spell, Saints then broke forward to create a chance of their own.

Good pressure in Coventry’s third of the pitch saw Sam Amo-Ameyaw stride forward and force a low save from Callaghan, who was helped by a deflection.

Coventry then went within inches of a first goal as forward Elliott Betjemann curled an angled free-kick onto the post, with Adli Mohamed beaten.

In the 80th minute though, Coventry did take lead when Aidan Dausch broke free and raced onto a ball over the Saints defence and found the net with a low strike.

Just when they needed a reply, Saints drew level. Jimmy-Jay Morgan’s initial shot was well kept out by home goalkeeper Callaghan, but his strike-partner Ballard followed up to stab home the rebound.

Late pressure from Saints saw them try to find a winner, but the tie went to extra-time with the scores level at the final whistle.

Doyle went close to putting Saints ahead shortly after the restart when his dipping free-kick dropped on top of the net, but the visitors did manage to work themselves into the lead just before the interval.

Sonnie Davis was released by Amo-Ameyaw on the right and the former’s cross found Ballard, who headed home having made a run across the front post.

With their win in reach, Saints were dealt a late double blow when Armitage was sent off for a second yellow card, and Coventry’s Elliott Betjemann made it 2-2 from the resulting free-kick.

However, to wrap up a truly dramatic end to an entertaining contest, Ballard found space in the box with seconds of extra time left and then found the bottom corner with his strike across goal to send Saints through.

Southampton's youngsters are next in action on Saturday 17th December when they travel to take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Under-18s Premier League.