Saints’ Under-21 side maintained their unbeaten start to pre-season with a narrow success at nearby Eastleigh.
The squad was supplemented by a handful of senior professionals with First Team experience, and it was one of those players that struck the decisive effort from the penalty spot as second half substitute Tadanari Lee converted from 12 yards after Harrison Reed had been brought down inside the area by Spitfires defender Dean Beckwith.
The goal was exactly what the contest had needed as both teams had searched high and low throughout the game for an opening, so the breakthrough – which albeit arrived from the spot – gave the supporters who had made the short journey something to cheer on a night where progression of fitness appeared high on the agenda.
It was the work-rate of the younger players in particular that will have been warmly received by the coaching staff as they once again showed the strides they have taken by holding on to their lead and staying largely untroubled throughout the 90 minutes.
The players with first-team experience under their belts made up much of the starting eleven, as Billy Sharp, Jonathan Forte, Steve De Ridder, Lee Barnard and former Eastleigh man Aaron Martin were all given run-outs.
Former Saints Academy goalkeeper Jack Dovey was on the bench for the hosts, whilst the Spitfires also fielded recent signing Stuart Fleetwood – formerly of Charlton Athletic - in attack.
Saints got the match underway, lining up in the new home strip on a bright evening at the Silverlake Stadium, a home familiar to the younger players from their league exploits last season.
During a slow opening to the contest, the hosts had an early penalty shout turned down after Ben Strevens had gone to ground in the box in tenth minute, whilst Fraser Colmer almost inadvertently diverted in the Eastleigh forward’s next attempt a minute later, but was able to clear from his own line.
Saints had their first chance on 14 minutes when Sharp found De Ridder, who cut inside before shooting wide. That was followed up three minutes later by Forte’s low scuffed effort which trickled wide of the right post.
At the other end, midfielder Dominic Gape made a brave block to deny Will Evans’s stinging low drive as clear opportunities remained elusive.
Sharp had the ball in the back of the net on 26 minutes after turning inside the area to shoot low into the net, but he was flagged for offside.
There was a disappointment for returning defender Martin, who was forced off with an injury sustained on 37 minutes. Second-year Saints Academy scholar Jason McCarthy took over at the back.
Eastleigh had two further half-chances to break the deadlock with Strevens again going closest through an ambitious bicycle kick, before Britt spilt a powerfully-struck low free-kick by Evans which was cleared to safety.
The best effort for Saints in the opening half came on 41 minutes when Forte found Sharp inside the box, but the frontman couldn’t direct his header on target from ten yards out.
HALF TIME: EASTLEIGH 0-0 SAINTS U21S
There were three changes made by coach Martin Hunter at the interval with Lee, Reed and Matt Targett all entering the action in place of Barnard, Curtis and Mugabi respectively.
Despite those changes, there was still little in the way of opportunities, with Jai Reason going the closest to making something of a cross into the area from Fleetwood.
Yemi Odubade replaced Fleetwood just before the hour mark, and that switch for the hosts was followed up by further changes for Saints as Jake Sinclair took the place of De Ridder, whilst Sharp and Forte were replaced by Corby Moore and Omar Rowe.
It remained a competitive encounter as the fresh legs on either side aided the creativity in midfield with both teams looking to make up for the lack of attempts at goal.
As play reached the final 20 minutes, two of Saints’ substitutes combined to good effect as Moore supplied Rowe inside the area on the left, but unfortunately the in-form winger, who had scored four in four matches prior to this game, saw his low effort flash wide across the goal.
Former Saints man Jack Dovey replaced Flitney between the sticks for the hosts as the minutes were further shared around both sets of squads.
The goalkeeper barely had time to settle before he was tested by Lee, whose high shot was spilt by the shot stopper as he got his first touch of the ball.
And Dovey was soon in the firing line again after Reed was felled inside the area by Dean Beckwith. LEE stepped up and sent the ‘keeper the wrong way to put Saints one-nil up on 76 minutes.
Thereafter, Eastleigh had the better of the game as they pushed for a late leveller, though never got close to working Britt again as Saints ended the match with a young backline which held firm to record another shut out, maintaining their record of just one goal conceded in their warm-up matches so far.
FULL TIME: EASTLEIGH 0-1 SAINTS U21S
Eastleigh: Flitney (Dovey 73), Spence (Fuller 85), Green (Doyle 85), Evans, Dillon (McAllister 46), Beckwith, Collins (Wilson 73), Southam, Strevens, Reason, Fleetwood.
Saints U21s: Will Britt, Matt Young, Aaron Martin (Jason McCarthy 37), Bevis Mugabi (Targett 46), Fraser Colmer, Joe Curtis (Harrison Reed 46), Dominic Gape, Steve De Ridder (Jake Sinclair 61), Jonathan Forte (Omar Rowe 61), Lee Barnard (Tadanar Lee 46), Billy Sharp (Corby Moore 61). Unused substitutes: Cody Cropper (GK), Ryan Seager, Jamal Branker.
Goal: Lee (76)