22/02/2016: Saints U21s 1-1 Reading U21s
Saints U21s drew 1-1 with Reading at Staplewood. The game was fairly evenly matched throughout, even though the home side had a man advantage for most of the contest. Saints played fairly well, but in the end Reading took advantage of their inexperience to claim a point.
Martin Hunter selected another inexperienced line-up, with six U18s and one U16 player included. Dom Gape, Armani Little, Jake Hesketh and Sam Gallagher were the only Saints players over the age of 18. The game took a dramatic turn just 6 minutes in when Shane Griffin was deservedly sent off for bringing down Sam Gallagher, who would have otherwise had a clear run at goal, albeit from about 40 yards out.
Saints initially didn't make their one man advantage count. Reading adopted a more compact and narrow approach, making it difficult for the home side to play through the middle. They also looked the more likely in front of goal, pressing effectively from the front and causing problems at set-pieces. Ollie Cook got caught out on the ball on 18, only to redeem himself with a goal-saving challenge moments later. Richard Bakary then headed off the line after Conor Shaughnessy had flicked the ball on from a corner.
Reading sat off a bit more midway through the first-half, but Saints still didn't show a great deal of fluency in the attacking third. Gallagher's 35th minute header on the edge of the box was easy for the keeper to gather. Gape's low 35 yarder was tipped wide a few moments later. Armani Little's 42nd minute effort flew just past the post.
Hunter sent on Josh Sims for the injured Gallagher at half-time, with Olufela Olomola moving up front. Saints upped the intensity, and were quickly rewarded with an early goal. Gape got in on the rebound after Hesketh's curling effort was parried. At the other end Harry Lewis made a smart stop from Harry Cardwell.
Little and Sims combined really well on the hour, with the latter seeing his cross cut out by the keeper before Olomola had the chance to get to the ball. Thomas O'Connor couldn't quite get his bearings right as he looped a header over at the back post. Reading's Aaron Kuhl then had a strike from outside the area deflect onto the post. Moments later the visitors were presented with another opening and this time they took it. Jack Stacey hammered the ball into the ground and into the back of the net following a defence mix-up in the Southampton penalty area.
Both teams showed plenty of urgency during the final 10 minutes in search of a winner. Lewis brilliantly tipped over the bar after Shaughnessy had nodded towards goal from a throw-in. Olomola was presented with a great chance on 83, after O'Connor had worked his way through a crowd of players, but the striker couldn't quite get his touch right. The two players combined again seconds later, only for Shaughnessy to nip in with a vital tackle. Reading had some late pressure too, with Lewis misjudging the flight of a long ball. Saints can be proud of the effort they put in to what was an entertaining game. The young team could have easily won it, but that lack of experience told at both ends of the pitch towards the end.
Lewis: As noted above, misjudged a few long balls, but generally solid, without being tested with anything too tricky
Bakary: Fairly positive going forward. Used his pace to good effect and a good defensive contribution too
Cook: Looked a bit awkward at times, but did make some strong challenges
Jones: Partially at fault for the goal, but had acquitted himself fairly well prior to that. Comfortable with the ball at his feet
Vokins: Ever so slightly na´ve at the back on occasions, but made plenty of confident runs forward. A few of his set pieces were very well delivered too
Gape: Experience shone through. Organised the team effectively, contributing at both ends of the pitch
Little: Showed his class on the ball once again, and got the balance right between defence and attack
Olomola: Involved in more defensive work when playing out on the wing in the first-half. Pressed well up front. Just needed to be a bit more decisive in front of goal
O'Connor: Lack of experience evident in spells, but generally a good showing from the 1st year scholar. Kept it simple in possession for much of the game, but produced a few real moments of quality late on
Hesketh: Unable to get involved close to goal in the first-half, but very lively after the break
Gallagher: Clearly struggling physically from very early on
Sims: A very lively 45 minute display