Sam Gallagher’s extra-time thunderbolt saw ten-man Southampton lift the Under-21 Premier League trophy in front of over 12,000 fans at St Mary’s.
Martin Hunter’s side led through Ryan Seager’s 52nd-minute strike, but were pegged back when Matt Targett inadvertently headed past Paulo Gazzaniga after being caught out by a slight deflection on Bradley Bauress’ cross.
Harrison Reed was sent off late on, but it mattered little, as Gallagher rifled home a beauty during the first period of extra time to hand Saints the coveted silverware in the second leg of the final on Monday night.
Hunter named an unchanged team from the goalless first leg at Ewood Park, and they began brightly. A one-two between Gallagher and Reed resulted in the latter delivering a perfectly-weight crossfield ball for Sam McQueen to run on to. The winger’s shot was deflected behind and Gape swung the corner in so close to the target that David Raya was forced to tip it over.
Southampton continued to push for an opener. Jake Hesketh broke away down the left seven minutes in and drove into the box before crossing invitingly towards Seager, but Raya emerged clutching the ball in the ensuing scramble just three yards from goal.
Eric Kinder’s men, though, remained resolute, just as they had been up in Lancashire seven days previously. Dean Rittenberg lost Gallagher and crossed onto the head of defender Sam Lavelle, who forced gloveman Gazzaniga to palm over from just underneath his own crossbar.
Hesketh then found Raya in stubborn mood, with the Spaniard repelling his goalbound strike and Seager, eager to snaffle the rebound, found an equally dogged Sam Jones in the way of his shot midway through the first 45.
Two wayward McQueen strikes sandwiched Connor Thomson’s effort for Blackburn, which McCarthy did well to get in the way of, and Seager almost applied the finishing touch to Hesketh’s through ball as the hosts finished the half in a similar vein to how they began it.
And, straight after the break, leading scorer Seager took aim, cutting inside his man and unleashing a curling strike that looked destined for the top corner but, agonisingly for the Yeovil-born hitman, it flew just wide.
Reed, who looked bright and combative at this stage, stung Raya’s palms soon after and then had a hand in the deadlock-breaker goal. His ambitious strike from range was charged down, but the ball ran loose in the box for the predatory Seager, who found the corner of the net.
Few of the 12,356 inside St Mary’s would argue that the goal wasn’t deserved, though Kinder’s side did show signs of life after the goal. Substitute Lewis Hardcastle saw his drive blocked by Gape and then Bauress’ low centre was hooked away off Thomson’s toe. It was midfielder Bauress’ cross that brought the leveller – which came, cruelly, from the head of the unwitting Matt Targett, wrong-footing Gazzaniga on its way in with just over 20 minutes to play.
The left-back nearly made amends instantly, striking the upright with a fine free-kick seconds after his unfortunate equaliser. Jake Sinclair was introduced in place of McQueen, and the switch seemed to reignite Saints momentarily, with Gallagher volleying just wide, but the 88th-minute dismissal of Reed – who picked up his second yellow card for a lunge on Jones – didn’t help their cause going into extra time.
But just three minutes into the first period, the decisive moment arrived. Gallagher made inroads down the right before finding the feet of substitute Josh Sims further infield. On collecting the return pass from the wideman, Gallagher shifted onto his unfavoured left foot before blasting an unstoppable strike beyond the reach of Raya and into the far corner, sending the Northam Stand wild and earning Saints the trophy.
Southampton: Paulo Gazzaniga, Bevis Mugabi, Jason McCarthy (c), Will Wood, Matt Targett, Dominic Gape, Harrison Reed, Sam Gallagher, Sam McQueen (Jake Sinclair 77), Jake Hesketh, Ryan Seager (Josh Sims 90).
Unused substitutes: Will Britt (GK), Josh Debayo, Callum Slattery.
Yellow card: Reed (45)
Red card: Reed (88)
Goals: Seager (52), Gallagher (94)
Blackburn Rovers: David Raya, Ryan Nyambe, Jack Doyle, Connor Thomson (Sam Joel 90), Sam Lavelle, Sam Jones, Dean Rittenberg (Hyuga Tanner 74), Bradley Bauress, Lewis Mansell, David Carson (Lewis Hardcastle 57), Connor Mahoney.
Unused substitutes: Ryan Crump (GK), Kellen Daly.
Yellow cards: Lavelle (21), Nyambe (35), Bauress (90)
Goal: Targett own goal (69)