Southampton's youngsters were defeated 3-1 in a hard-fought battle against Chelsea in the Under-18’s Premier League.
Chelsea winger Jimmi Tauriainen enjoyed an early brace as the visitors went two goals ahead, the first a tidy side foot finish into the bottom left corner following a string of intricate passes on 9 minutes, the second a precise, curled effort sixteen minutes later.
Southampton quickly replied in the 28th minute, Jayden Smith firing home a well struck effort from distance with his left foot.
Despite Southampton being on the front foot for most of the second half, Chelsea ensured all three points in 90th minute, Edwin Anderson volleying home following Joe Haigh’s deflected effort off the crossbar.
Southampton came into the game visibly determined to make amends for their FA Youth Cup exit midweek, and we’re unfortunate not to go ahead early, with Sam Bellis inches away from poking home following a corner that was spilled by Chelsea goalkeeper Teddy Curd after just a couple of minutes.
Shortly after, Matt Hall was called into action at the other end, denying Chelsea’s Jayden Wareham from distance with a smart stop down to his right.
Despite their bright start, Southampton found themselves behind on nine minutes after Ryan Finnigan was caught in possession, allowing Myles Peart-Harris to break away down the right wing and cut back his pass to a waiting Tauriainen, who casually slotted into the bottom left corner with a side-footed finish.
Eager to reply, Saints defender Leon Pambou found himself in the oppositions box following a corner shortly after and managed to squeeze a clever pass through a crowd of players and into the feet of Smith, whose eventual shot was well smothered by the outrushing Curd.
Despite his exceptional ability to break down opposition attacks and recycle the ball, it was Finnigan once more who was caught in possession for Chelsea’s second, as Tauriainen again found himself with time and space to cut the ball back onto his left foot and curl past a diving Hall following a skilful run from the halfway line on 25 minutes.
However, three minutes later Southampton found themselves back in the fight, Smith controlling a long ball with his chest on the right wing before cutting inside onto his left foot and skipping past several opposition players, eventually firing his powerful effort past a helpless Curd to the delight of the home bench.
Spurred on by this wonderful strike, Southampton began to dominate proceedings toward the end of the half and were unfortunate not to go into the dressing room level after captain Will Tizzard’s header flew just wide of the visitors left post following a corner.
It was Tizzard once more that had spectators on the edge of their seats early in the second half, the captain showing immense determination to make amends for his poor back pass that set Chelsea winger Ronnie Stutter through on goal, with a perfectly timed slide challenge.
In stark contrast to their offensive first half layout, Chelsea looked more than content to sit on their one goal advantage in the second period, a tactical move which in many ways highlights the character and performance shown by Saints in the latter 45.
Aside from Wareham’s looping header onto the bar in the 50th minute, the reds enjoyed the majority of chances and possession leading on from the interval, and were further strengthened by the introduction of Romello Mitchell in the 58th minute, who worked tirelessly to close down Chelsea defenders.
Deservedly so, it was Mitchell who had the golden chance to bring Saints level in the 62nd minute, the striker using his pace to breeze past Chelsea’s centre back pairing of Bashir Humphreys and Josh Brooking and go one-on-one with Curd who he also rounded, but the finish from a tight angle lacked power, allowing Humphreys to recover and clear.
Despite their momentous efforts, Southampton were caught in the final minute of normal time by some of Chelsea’s fresh legged substitutes, with the blues working the ball into the feet of Haigh, whose strike cannoned off the crossbar and into the feet of an incoming Anderson, who controlled well and volleyed home.
Looking back, Southampton will feel irritated to have left the Snows Stadium empty handed, but can take pride in their performance which deserved more on the day.
Southampton’s next game sees them travel to top of the league Crystal Palace on Saturday morning, as the reds aim to get back to winning ways.