20/04/2015: Saints U21s 2-1 Blackburn U21s
Saints U21s enjoyed a fabulous night at St Mary's as they were crowned U21 Premier League Cup winners. Martin Hunter's side played well throughout, but needed extra-time to see off a well organised Blackburn side.
Saints made an explosive start to the game, attacking with pace and purpose. Dom Gape's 7th minute corner nearly caught out Blackburn keeper David Raya. Ryan Seager then came very close to bundling the ball over the line following a rapid run down the left from Jake Hesketh. Seager, Hesketh, Sam Gallagher and Sam McQueen interchanged positions throughout, making for a fluid attack.
For all their dominance going forward, Saints did occasionally look susceptible at the back. Paolo Gazzaniga did really well to tip over Sam Lavelle's header at the back post. Saints' distribution at the back could have been better during the first half, but the team was always a threat on the counter. McQueen shot over the bar on 17.
On 23 Seager and Hesketh combined well, with the latter forcing a good save from the keeper following a neat turn. A few minutes later Blackburn's Connor Thomson had a strike deflected over the bar. Seager couldn't quite connect with Gallagher's cross on 31. The pace of the game slowed slightly towards the end of the half, but Saints maintained control of possession. Seager had another shot blocked on 38 from Hesketh's through ball.
Saints stepped up the tempo once again at the start of the 2nd half. Seager curled the ball just past the post on 48 after cutting in from the left. Harrison Reed then tested the keeper with a well worked free-kick. After countless failed attempts, Seager finally got his goal on 52. The striker completed a relatively simple finish after Reed's long shot had fortuitously deflected into his path.
Saints appeared to have a decent grip of the game. On 63 Hesketh hit a half-volley over the bar following Matt Targett's run down the left. Six minutes later however, Blackburn levelled out of nothing. A deep cross from the left bounced straight off the unsuspecting Targett and into the back of the net.
Targett nearly made amends immediately, striking the post from a free-kick. The action simmered down slightly during the last 20 minutes of normal time. Saints were unable to maintain the intensity they had displayed early on, instead preferring a more patient build-up. On 76 Gallagher hooked the ball wide from Targett's cross. A few moments later Gallagher robbed the ball off Jack Doyle before volleying just past the post.
On 88 Reed was deservedly sent off for his 2nd mistimed tackle of the game. Blackburn saw a bit more of the ball going into stoppage time, without causing Saints any problems.
Saints adapted much better to being a man down during extra-time. Targett's long shot looked dangerous, but the keeper did well to grasp it into his body. A couple of minutes later Saints regained the lead. Gallagher smashed the ball into the bottom corner after taking on a couple of players and combining with substitute Josh Sims.
Saints sat back once they were ahead. Blackburn really struggled to find a way through. On 112 Saints had a chance to put the game to bed when Gallagher broke through on goal. The youngster seemed to be caught in two minds whether to shoot of square it to Sims, who would have had a clear sight at goal. Eventually the move broke down. Rovers threw everything forward, including keeper Raya, but never really got close to levelling. Saints held on for a deserved victory.
Results may not be the most important thing in youth football, but this was still a very special occasion. You could tell during the celebrations after the game how much it meant to the players. Saints have played well throughout the competition and fully deserved to come away with the trophy. Most of the players on show have been playing together for a long time now, and it certainly showed. The cohesion within the team was excellent. Many are signed to long term contracts, so we'll no doubt be seeing a lot more of them in the coming years. The watching Ronald Koeman will have been impressed, particularly with Hesketh, Gallagher and Seager in attack. With Saints' first team struggling offensively right now, it's not inconceivable that some of those players could feature at senior level between now and the end of the season. If not, they'll be plenty of opportunities later on.
Gazzaniga: Didn't have too many major saves to make. One slight miscommunication with McCarthy, but otherwise maintained a decent command of his area
Mugabi: Showed a lot more confidence on the ball during the second half, pushing on to support. Got caught sleeping in defence on one occasion, but generally fairly solid at the back
McCarthy: A few minor errors in the first half, but overall pretty good. Made some big last ditch tackles and blocks
Wood: Not troubled too much defensively. Showed confidence on the ball
Targett: Looked a bit off colour at times early on, but a few vital pieces of defending and some good runs down the left
Reed: Was playing well prior to his red card. Set the tempo and got attacks started in his role just in front of the back four
Gape: Set piece delivery excellent. Pressed to good effect too
Gallagher: Looks to be back to his best. Had a bit of everything. Showed skill on the ball and displayed excellent movement in the box
Hesketh: At the heart of most of Saints' good attacking moves. Displayed a good change of pace and some great link-up play
McQueen: Showed strength with some good direct play. Final product perhaps lacking at times, but never afraid to shoot
Seager: Lively throughout. A great first touch and close control. Made plenty of opportunities for himself and deserved his goal
Sinclair: Drew a few fouls and added some much needed freshness to Saints' attack late in the game
Sims: Contributed well at both ends of the pitch
Saints - Seager (52) Gallagher (94)
Blackburn - Targett OG (69)
Attendance - 12,356
Saints: Gazzaniga, Mugabi, McCarthy, Wood, Targett, Reed, Gape, Gallagher, Hesketh, McQueen (Sinclair 77), Seager (Sims 90)
Subs not used: Britt, Debayo, Slattery
Blackburn: Raya, Nyambe, Doyle, Thomson (Joel 90), Lavelle, Jones, Rittenberg (Tanner 74), Bauress, Mansell, Carson (Hardcastle 57), Mahoney
Subs not used: Crump, Daly