Saints U21s 1-1 Spurs U21s
Report from St Mary's
09 February 2016|Tottenham Hotspur
Nabil Bentaleb volleyed home a 77th-minute equaliser as our Under-21s drew 1-1 at Southampton on Tuesday night (February 9).
The Algeria international, who joined the likes of Josh Onomah, Harry Winks and Luke McGee in our line-up as both sides fielded a sprinkling of players with first team experience, was on hand to cancel out Jake Hesketh's spectacular opener for the hosts – who had players such as Paulo Gazzaniga and Juanmi among their number – in an action-packed game at St Mary's Stadium.
We pushed for a winner in the closing stages of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League battle but it was Southampton who almost stole it when Hesketh's shot from 25 yards hit the post in stoppage time.
The match got off to a false start with an unfortunate injury to Saints full-back Josh Debayo early on, but once proceedings got back underway we played some tidy football in the middle third with Kyle Walker-Peters and Anthony Georgiou at full-back looking to make inroads down the flanks when possible.
Clear shooting chances were at a premium, though, thanks in part to some wayward shooting from distance and the Saints' ability to crowd out the likes of Onomah and back-from-injury Shayon Harrison as soon as they got on the ball within the confines of the 18-yard box.
Walker-Peters did manage to breach the Southampton area a few minutes after Winks lashed off target but, after going to ground under a challenge, the referee waved away his appeals for a penalty.
Both goalkeepers were then tested as first McGee comfortably kept out Josh Sims' back-post header from Hesketh's cross on the quarter-of-an-hour mark before Onomah's low volley went straight into the arms of Gazzaniga.
There was plenty of quick passing and clever movement on show from us as we controlled the possession but we were found wanting in the final third – Will Miller shooting low at Gazzaniga after a period of pressure before the same player squandered our best chance of the half on 26 minutes. Bentaleb's ball forward was headed down by Harrison to Onomah, who in turn chested into the path of Miller but, recognising the need to take the shot on early, the latter blazed off target on the volley.
The hosts appeared to have opened the scoring on the half-hour mark when Cuco Martina drilled low into the corner from our left-back position but, after consulting his linesman, referee Adrian Quelch ruled that Harry Reed had been off-side when he jumped over the ball and allowed it to creep into the net and thus the goal was chalked off.
That incident was very much against the run of play at the time but as the interval approached, the home side began to see more of the ball.
Miller almost wriggled into a shooting position inside the Saints' box after another intricate move from us but Alfie Jones got his foot in at the critical moment to concede a corner.
We were almost caught out on the counter-attack four minutes before the break when Hesketh's through ball was knocked into the path of Juanmi by Sam Gallagher, but Walker-Peters and Cameron Carter-Vickers combined to ensure he had no way through.
Onomah shot wide from outside the box on a couple of occasions either side of the hour mark, with McGee then making a vital save to keep out Sims' angled drive as he surged into the box from the right with the game becoming a real end-to-end affair.
Miller couldn't quite get the ball out from under his feet after another swift attack from us, but Southampton found the opening goal just seconds later as Hesketh picked up possession wide on the left, shifted the ball onto his right foot and curled over the despairing McGee into the far top corner with 64 minutes on the watch.
Bentaleb sent a pair of left-footed free-kicks marginally wide of Gazzaniga's left-hand post as we continued on the front foot before the midfielder came up with the equaliser 13 minutes from time. Onomah attacked with purpose before laying the ball out wide to substitute Emmanuel Sonupe who was overlapping on the left. His low cross was turned away as far as Bentaleb, who instinctively lashed past Gazzaniga as the ball came to him 12 yards out.
Seemingly not content to stay level, we continued to push forward but, after Reed's wide free-kick flew straight into McGee’s grasp, we were almost undone in the second minute of time added on when Hesketh won possession centrally and drove towards goal before letting fly – only to see his effort strike McGee's right-hand post.
We had one final set piece ourselves, but it came to nothing and the spoils were shared.
Ugo Ehiogu said
“We produced some lovely passages of play and carved out some wonderful moments but you have to be working the goalkeeper and unfortunately we were either too weak or over-elaborate with a lack of a cutting edge,” he said.
“It was frustrating, especially in the second half where we over-played more and didn’t find the right balance between good play and effective play.
“When we get in and around the box and we’ve got players running at defenders who are backing off, we need to pull the trigger. Even when you get squared up to by a defender, you might shift it half a yard to get your shot off but there wasn’t enough of that.
“There was lots of good play between both boxes, some comfortable and tidy passing, but we want the players to be more effective and cutting-edge. We had more than enough chances to have beaten Southampton but it feels like a defeat because of the lack of a killer instinct.”
Despite Hesketh’s goal for Southampton, Ugo was encouraged by some of the things he saw from us at the back: “We did look better at set-pieces, we won our headers and got some blocks in, but it’s obviously frustrating when you come away and you’ve still conceded a goal,” he added.
Southampton U21s: Gazzaniga, Martina, Debayo (Vokins 6), Reed, Mugabi, Jones, Sims, Gape (c), Gallagher, Juanmi, Hesketh. Substitutes (not used): Olomola, Little, Bakary, Lewis (GK).
Spurs U21s: McGee, Walker-Peters, Georgiou, Amos, Carter-Vickers, Bentaleb (c), Miller, Winks (Lesniak 81), Harrison (Sonupe 70), Onomah (Goddard 81), Walkes. Substitute (not used): Voss (GK).