Southampton Under-18s, who were reduced to 10 men, fought hard and earned a point in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Chelsea in the Under-18s Premier League on Saturday.
The hosts sprung into action early on. Good pressure on the ball saw Will Merry played through on goal with just 30 seconds played and, although his shot was well blocked by a covering defender, Jem Hewlett took full advantage to stab home from the resulting corner.
After going behind in the second minute, Chelsea looked to respond and Leo Castledine curled a free-kick narrowly over from 25-yards out.
Saints defended resolutely for the first 20 minutes of the contest but saw the visitors create some presentable chances to get back level in the game.
Lewis Hall and Tyrique George saw shots beaten away by Saints goalkeeper Eric Hanbury, before Castledine directed a free header off target from a promising position.
Further efforts on goal were dealt with well by Hanbury and his home defence, while the hosts were still looking composed on the ball when they won possession back.
A nicely worked move saw Josh Lett stride forward from his left-back spot and take aim at the Chelsea goal shortly before half-time, but he saw his firm strike rise over the bar.
The London outfit continued to probe for more opportunities in the opening stages of the second-half but Saints gave the visitors an early glimpse of their own ability to break forward.
Will Merry latched onto a direct ball over the defence and raced towards goal, eventually forcing Ted Curd to keep his stinging drive out at the near post.
However, Saints were dealt a blow shortly after when midfielder Alex Iwumene was sent off for his second bookable offence and this left the home side a man light for much of the second period.
Eric Hanbury remained alert in goal to see off efforts from Chelsea forwards Ato Ampah and Lewis Hall in the spell of pressure that followed, and in their next attack the hosts doubled their lead.
Brandon Charles timed his run well to connect with a low Rylee Wright cross from the left flank, poked a shot towards goal and saw the ball roll inside the post – a clinical move just when Saints needed it.
Chelsea almost responded immediately when former Academy attacker, Tyler Dibling, met a cross at the back post with a clean volley but again Hanbury stood up to the challenge, clearing the ball well away from danger with his feet.
The visitors did half their deficit on 78 minutes though. Louis Flower benefitted in fortunate circumstances as a deflected corner dropped to him at close-range and he squeezed the ball in at the near post.
Saints saw chances for Tommy-Lee Higgs and Will Merry go close to adding a third goal in their favour, but their courageous efforts to keep the Blues out at the other end were eventually undone late on.
Winger Ato Ampah produced a driving run towards the Saints box and a smart finish across goal as the scores were levelled on 89 minutes to force a share of the spoils.