A Ryan Seager hat-trick booked Southampton’s place in the final of the Under-21 Premier League Cup as they recorded a 4-2 win over Derby County in what was a sensational semi-final at St Mary’s.
Martin Hunter’s side had the game all but wrapped up in the first 45, when Seager’s treble and Sam Gallagher’s first goal since returning from injury put them firmly in command, despite having fallen behind early on.
Argentine goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga saved a fourth-minute Ivan Calero penalty before the Rams struck, but it was all about Hunter’s youngsters from thereon in as they set up a two-legged final meeting with Blackburn Rovers.
With a place in the final a tempting carrot dangling in front of both sides, Lee Glover’s Derby, who saw off West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland and Stoke City on their way to the last four, had the perfect opportunity to put themselves in the driving seat with just over three minutes on the clock.
Calero, the young Spanish winger, beat Niall Mason in the area and, after being tripped by Southampton’s right-back, went to ground. Referee Derek Eaton pointed to the spot, but Gazzaniga produced a fine stop down low to his right to deny the former Burton Albion loanee.
The Rams didn’t have to wait long for their opener, though. Tom Koblenz let fly from range, and his well-struck effort flew past Gazzaniga and into the net to give the visitors an early advantage, but they couldn’t hold it for long.
Under a minute after Koblenz’s strike, Gallagher snatched his first goal of the season when Ryan Seager’s charge into the box was halted and the ball ran loose for the fit-again striker to dispatch low past Jonathan Mitchell for the leveller.
Incredibly, Saints then went ahead eight minutes later. Gallagher – revelling down the right flank – sent in a delightful cross which Seager nodded beyond Mitchell to turn the game on its head.
Once again, however, the lead didn’t last long as Callum Guy smashed home from the edge of the area, grabbing the tie’s fourth goal after just quarter of an hour, but then it was time for Seager to take centre stage.
The 19-year-old’s second of the evening was made by Jake Sinclair, who threaded a pass through for the forward to bury midway through the half before some excellent work on the right from the marauding Mason resulted in a tap-in for the Yeovil-born hitman, who had claimed the match ball with over an hour still to play.
Supporters who turned up to cheer the young Saints certainly got their money’s worth, and with six goals and plenty of attacking football on display, the first half seemed to be a difficult act to follow – and so it proved. Seager attempted a curler which flew over and Dom Gape, industrious throughout, forced Mitchell to parry with a well-controlled volley just before the hour mark.
Though Glover’s outfit did enjoy sustained spells of possession after the break, they exhibited more graft than craft in the final third and struggled to carve out many real scoring opportunities. Max Lowe hooked goalwards but Gazzaniga held on before Jamie Hanson failed to trouble the former Gillingham gloveman with a looping free kick, but a comeback was never really on the cards and Saints moved another step closer to some silverware.
Southampton: Paulo Gazzaniga, Niall Mason, Jason McCarthy ©, Will Wood, Josh Debayo, Jake Hesketh, Dom Gape, Ryan Seager (Sam McQueen 90), Lloyd Isgrove (Josh Sims 90), Jake Sinclair, Sam Gallagher.
Unused substitutes: Will Britt (GK), Ollie Cook, Alfie Jones.
Derby County: Jonathan Mitchell, Luke Hendrie (Offrande Zanzala 85), Rhys Sharpe, Callum Guy, Farrend Rawson ©, Jamie Hanson, Max Lowe (Shaquille McDonald 73), Tom Koblenz (Charles Vernam 78), Kwame Thomas, Alban Bunjaku, Ivan Calero.
Unused substitutes: Ethan Wassall, Ross Etheridge (GK).