Southampton’s Under-18s retained their place at the top of the Under-18 Premier League table on Saturday with a narrow victory over Leicester City.
Saints’ youngsters remain one point clear of second place West Ham United, but they still have a game in hand over their closest competition in the title race.
Carl Martin’s side made it three games unbeaten in the league with victory over Leicester, after a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Chelsea last time out.
Martin made just two changes to the starting XI that claimed victory over Chelsea, with Rylee Wright and Kaya Tshaka entering the fold.
After an end-to-end opening 20 minutes, Matt Carson found the breakthrough for Saints.
Lewis Payne launched an excellent ball from the right flank into Luke Pearce in the area before Pearce released the ball across goal, evading the Leicester defence and goalkeeper.
A charging Carson ran into the area to poach the ball into the back of the net to give the visitors an important lead.
Leicester looked to retaliate soon after with Kian Pennant making an electric run down the left flank and into the box, but his eventual low effort went comfortably into the hands of Eddie Beach.
With Leicester threatening the equaliser, Saints’ youngsters knew it was time to step their game up. An excellent corner delivery from Sonnie Davis fell perfectly for first man Wright who attempted to flick the ball into the back of the net.
His effort challenged Leicester’s Arlo Doherty but was ultimately deflected behind for another corner.
With Saints eager to extend their advantage, Luke Pearce attempted to add to his already impressive goal scoring tally for the season.
Another strong passage of play on the right flank between Dom Ballard and Payne ensued before Pearce was released inside the area, with the youngster attempting a shot from a difficult angle before Ben Grist came in to make a vital interception for the hosts.
Clearly influenced by Saints’ first-team performances this season, the Under-18s nearly monopolised on an opportunity resulting from their high press shortly before the break.
Doherty failed to make a convincing clearance, with Henry Cartwright being dispossessed by Cameron Bragg before Wright drilled a shot towards goal.
Saints continued to dominate early in the second half, earning the first real opportunity of the second half with Wright finding the perfect position to receive Ballard’s pass and forcing another save from Doherty and sending the ball behind for a Southampton corner.
Beach was soon called into action to make a fantastic save with his right foot to deny Jesper Kutshienza the equaliser. Saints continued to look in danger of conceding shortly after the hour mark as the defence scrambled to clear a whole host of Leicester attacks.
With Leicester on the ascendency, Cartwright launched a delightful cross-field ball to Kutshienza who looked certain to score if it weren’t for Beach’s quick reactions in leaving his line.
With just 15 minutes of the game remaining, substitute Tyler Dibling aimed to leave his mark on the match as he made a dizzying run into the area before forcing Doherty into a diving save at the near post.
The resulting corner provided perhaps Saints’ best opportunity in the second half, with Doherty once again proving the hero for Leicester. Ryan Finnigan was the first to receive contact from the corner, firing a powerful header towards Doherty whose clearance then fell to Jem Hewlett, but the captain couldn’t monopolise on the chance to double Saints’ lead.
With the clock winding down Leicester continued to look for a breakthrough, with Brandon Cover shooting into the centre of the goal with just two minutes remaining but a strong punch away from Beach cleared the threat.
A hugely important win for Saints’ youngsters who now travel to Reading on Saturday for the first of a double header as they look to close out the Under-18 Premier League season in style.