Saints Under-18s snatched a late 3-2 victory in a friendly match with Exeter City at Staplewood on Wednesday afternoon.
Joe Lea’s fine early drive into the top corner looked to have set the tone for a comfortable outing for Southampton but the opener was immediately cancelled out by a looping header from the Grecians.
Exeter broke into the lead themselves on the stroke of half-time with a rebounding blast into the roof of the net which filled them with confidence for a second half that was mostly frustrating for Saints.
With the clash seemingly set to end two-one in favour of the visiting side, Will Wood levelled terms with a solid drill across the box and into the far corner.
Substitute Kyle Clinton stole the win for the hosts when he rose to powerfully nod Niall Mason’s corner in to completely alter the complexity of their afternoon.
Not even a minute had passed by and Saints were filling the visitors with anxiety. Dan Demkiv’s cross flashed past the face of goal but drew no contact on its journey past the back post.
Southampton had valid appeals for a penalty ignored when Armani Little burst into the box, bypassing several challenges in the process before being sent crashing into the ground.
Early pressure from the hosts paid dividends in the ninth minute when LEA opened the scoring with a fine strike.
The youngster took Chris Regis’ pass into his stride well as he broke into the box before sending the bouncing ball swerving beyond the stretch of the Exeter ‘keeper and into the top corner.
Saints held the lead for just a minute before Exeter levelled through a cross being glanced over Jake Hallett and into the roof of the net.
Demkiv arguably should have re-established the lead when Regis pulled the ball back from the byline but he tamely scooped it into the goalkeeper’s grasp.
As half-time approached Saints were nearly gifted a second goal when the onrushing Exeter custodian failed to hold a long pass near the edge of the area. Goalscorer Lea swiftly reacted with a side-footed volley that deflected wide to spare Exeter’s blushes.
The home side were made to rue not capitalising on such an opportunity when the Grecians snatched a lead against the run of play.
Hallett exposed his gaping net when failing to reach an inswinging corner that was nodded onto the post before being slammed in on the rebound.
HALF-TIME: SOUTHAMPTON U18s 1-2 EXETER CITY U18s
Stuart Wilkin came within inches of building on an encouraging personal first-half performance when he stretched to prod Demkiv’s low cross marginally over the crossbar.
Hallett kept Saints very much in contention when he threw himself in the way of a deflected effort that fizzed towards the corner of his net.
The young ‘keeper did well to charge out of his net and narrow the angle when Exeter broke in behind Saints’ rearguard for a one-on-one chance; fortunately, Hallett’s pressure forced a rushed attempt with the outside of the foot that flew wide.
As the encounter entered its final half-hour, Saints began to press intensely.
A corner was played to the edge of the area and lifted high towards Regis in the box; the ball was flicked into the path of the unmarked Ollie Cook whose inexperience in front of goal counted against him as the centre-back powered the ball straight at the Exeter ‘keeper.
With less than ten minutes remaining, Hallett resorted to handling outside of the area to prevent an attempted lob from soaring over him after being caught out when running for the ball.
Southampton could have considered themselves quite fortunate not to concede from the resulting free-kick that was swung towards the far side of the box for a header past the far post.
As the match reached the dying stages a comeback appeared beyond Saints. WOOD dispelled any fears of an Exeter win with a well-struck drive that nestled in the far corner of the net.
Substitute pairing Niall Mason and CLINTON combined to completely overturn the deficit as the former’s curling corner was sent crashing into the net by the head of the centre-back to bring a dramatic end to the encounter.
FULL-TIME: SOUTHAMPTON U18s 3-2 EXETER CITY U18s
Southampton U18s: Jake Hallett, Colm Deasy, Alfie Jones, Ollie Cook, Will Wood, Armani Little (Niall Mason 46), George Mells (Josh Debayo 70), Dan Demkiv (Callum Slattery 58), Joe Lea (Kyle Clinton 70), Stuart Wilkin (Jordan Holmes 70), Chris Regis. Unused substitutes: Harry Isted (GK).