Southampton Under-18s claimed a deserved point with a 0-0 draw against West Ham on Saturday despite having to play much of the second-half with ten men.
A tight and competitive contest between the top two teams in the Under-18 Premier League saw Saints captain Jem Hewlett sent off on 58 minutes, but the home side battled hard to see off late pressure from their visitors.
Both sides had speculative efforts to try to break the deadlock after what had been a very even opening five minutes.
West Ham midfielder George Earthy almost caught out home goalkeeper Eddie Beach with a first-time strike from long-range and then Saints striker Dom Ballard looked to respond but saw his snapshot blocked on the edge of the area.
The hosts soon created two opportunities to test Hammers goalkeeper Jacob Knightbridge.
Kami Doyle forced a tip around the post when he squeezed a shot through a crowd in the box that otherwise looked destined for the bottom corner and Jimmy Morgan’s dipping volley also needed palming over the crossbar shortly after.
It did prove to be a first-half of few clear chances but that did not reflect the overall standard of play as both sides knocked the ball around with confidence.
One flowing move from the visitors saw full-back Junior Robinson presented with the chance to score with a drive at the near post, but he was denied by a good covering block from Matt Carson.
Saints looked dangerous when they worked the ball neatly past their opponents’ press, though, and this made them a consistent threat on the counter.
Into the second-half, West Ham created the first opening but, with a bouncing ball, striker Divin Mubama could not keep his shot down when presented with a clear shot at goal after a low cross from the left wing.
Saints almost grabbed the lead with the next attack though. Doyle’s persistence worked space in the penalty area and his pullback was taken off the toes of Ballard just as he was preparing to shoot.
Carl Martin’s side were then dealt a blow on 58 minutes. Captain Hewlett was shown a straight red card having brought down Mubama with a last-man challenge on the edge of the box, meaning that Saints had to see the game out with ten men.
West Ham sensed a real opportunity to stretch their points advantage at the top of the table, but Saints held firm and limited the visitors to difficult chances while still remaining positive at the other end of the pitch.
After several long-range attempts that failed to trouble the hosts, Hammers wing-back Regan Clayton fizzed a volley over the bar when well-placed. Saints substitute Rylee Wright also tested Knightbridge having made space for himself well outside the area on the break.
One last chance did come for West Ham in stoppage-time, but Beach pulled off a superb save to deny Mubama from close-range and earn his side a share of the spoils in the end.
Saints stay two points behind their title rivals but have two games in hand still to be played between now and the end of the season. They are in action again on Saturday 2nd March when they travel away to face Arsenal.