A goal in either half from the visitors saw Saints’ Under-21s fall to a 2-0 defeat to their Chelsea counterparts at St Mary’s on Thursday evening.
Kasey Palmer’s stunning strike separated the two teams at the interval, and an improved showing from the hosts in the second 45 ultimately went unrewarded, though Chelsea left it late to seal their win with Dominic Solanke slotting home in stoppage time.
The Blues had struck the woodwork four times in total, though it wasn’t all one-way traffic, and Saints were close to levelling the scores, with substitute Marcus Barnes unfortunate not to score inside the last ten minutes of play.
Heading into the game, it was the teams in seventh and eighth place going head-to-head separated only separated by goal difference.
Martin Hunter made three changes to the team that lifted the Premier League Under-21 cup a week ago, with Will Britt, Jake Sinclair, and Josh Debayo all coming into the starting eleven for the hosts.
The visitors got the game under way, defending the Northam stand on a clear evening inside St Mary’s, with Martin Hunter’s men making a positive start to the contest as they broke forward early on, and defended bravely too.
An early header over from right back Bevis Mugabi was the best of the opening exchanges for the hosts, with Will Britt tested at the other end when he denied Dominic Solanke’s low shot, and Josh Debayo was on hand to clear the danger.
Chelsea grew into it from there and went close to opening the scoring on 11 minute when captain Jordan Houghton hit the bar with a header from a corner, and Saints scrambled the ball clear.
Ryan Seager almost got the better of the Blues backline when he saw a shot saved from just inside the area, and then Jake Sinclair had a weak shot from Seager’s lay-off, held by Mitchell Beeney.
Chelsea opened the scoring on 28 minutes with a piece of sublime individual skill from midfielder Kasey Palmer, who got the ball out of his feet after beating three Saints defenders on the edge of the area and fired a rocket of a shot into the top right corner, which Britt could do nothing about.
The Blues had chances to double their lead before the break with Tammy Abraham playing Solanke through on goal, but the opportunity went begging as he rolled the ball wide of the far post with Britt beaten. Solanke then saw a further strike deflected over off McCarthy’s leg, but it was Palmer who almost doubled his money on the stroke of half-time when he collected a corner from the edge of the box, took one touch to set himself, before seeing his shot held by Britt.
Ollie Cook replaced Will Wood for the start of the second half with the latter having sustained a knock in the opening 45 minutes, and Saints came out with more fight in the new half.
Dominic Gape placed a free-kick over the bar, and Sinclair’s strike from a Gape corner soon after, also cleared the goal guarded by Beeney.
McQueen’s free-kick went straight into the wall as chances continued to come and go for the hosts, and with under fifteen minutes remaining, Hunter brought on Marcus Barnes in place of Seager in search of an equaliser.
The impact from the under-18s forward was clear to see, as he and Gallagher combined well, with the latter of two opportunities falling to the substitute, who had an effort which was deflected wide by one of the five Chelsea players back inside the six yard box as Saints pressed.
But Chelsea would go onto seal their win in stoppage time. After seeing Jay Da Silva warm Britt’s hands with a fierce strike across goal, Britt then had to made a fingertip save from Solanke, and substitute Charley Musonda also hit the crossbar, before Solanke pounced on an under-hit backpass from Debayo to round the Saints keeper and roll home for 2-0.Southampton Under-21s: Will Britt, Bevis Mugabi, Jason McCarthy (c), Will Wood (Ollie Cook 46), Josh Debayo, Dominic Gape, Jake Hesketh, Sam Gallagher, Sam McQueen, Jake Sinclair (Josh Sims 67), Ryan Seager (Marcus Barnes 77)
Unused substitutes: Cody Cropper, Alfie Jones
Booked: Debayo (33)
Chelsea Under-21s: Mitchell Beeney, Ola Aina, Dion Conroy, Jake Clarke-Salter, Fankaty Dabo (Jay Da Silva 69), Charlie Colkett (Charley Musonda 72), Alex Kiwomya, Jordan Houghton, Tammy Abraham (Jeremie Boga 64), Dominic Solanke, Kasey Palmer
Unused substitutes: Bradley Collins, Reece Mitchell
Goals: Palmer (28), Solanke (90+3)
Referee: Simon Knapp