UNITED once again fell at the first hurdle in the Carling Cup but the final score fails to tell the full story.
De Ridder 16, Lambert 27, Chaplow 81, Forte 90
Southampton progressed into Round Two with a 3-1 victory but the Gulls produced a display full of attacking verve that had the Saints scrambling for much of the evening at St Mary’s.
When Steve De Ridder gave Southampton the lead on 16 minutes, the home faithful could have been forgiven for expecting a stroll to victory, but Yellow skipper Lee Mansell equalised within seconds.
The Gulls fell behind again to a free-kick from Rickie Lambert but the hosts struggled to cope with the Yellow movement for long periods until Richard Chaplow and Jonathan Forte added unwarranted gloss to the Southampton victory in the final ten minutes.
United manager Martin Ling made two changes from the 2-2 opening day draw with Burton Albion, one enforced and one tactical.
The enforced switch involved Kenyan international striker Taiwo Atieno coming in for his full debut as a replacement for Billy Kee, who missed the game because of his call-up to the Northern Ireland Under-21 squad.
Danny Stevens was sacrificed in the tactical switch, as Ling turned to the slightly more defensive option of Chris McPhee to operate on the right-hand side of midfield.
The seven substitutes allowed for Carling Cup fixtures enabled Ling to add an extra two names on his bench, so, added to the absence of Kee, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Saul Halpin and goalkeeper Martin Rice came down from the stands to take their places among the replacements.
Southampton boss Nigel Adkins swept the changes after a superb 3-1 win over Leeds United on the opening day of their Championship campaign. Defender Aaron Martin and the strike pairing of Lambert and Guly Do Prado were the only survivors from that victory.
United took a few minutes to settle into the terrific surroundings of St Mary’s and strong work from Atieno allowed Ian Morris to whip in a cross that narrowly evaded the run of McPhee.
Kevin Nicholson took that as inspiration to pile forward and send in a low cross for Atieno, who manufactured space cleverly to fire in a low shot that goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski did well to turn wide.
The subsequent corner from Eunan O’Kane was won by Chris Robertson in the air and the Saints were at full stretch again to deny an excellent start from the Gulls being rewarded with the opening goal.
Southampton gradually settled into proceedings and began targeting the right flank of United’s defence with the tricky left-sided combination of Lee Holmes and Ryan Dickson, formerly on loan at Plainmoor, posing a real threat.
The Saints took advantage of their growing influence with a terrific move through midfield. Chaplow fed De Ridder’s run in the box and the Belgian finished in style from just inside the penalty area.
United took less than a minute to lick their wounds. Rene Howe held the ball up and created space for Morris to swing over a cross for Mansell, who planted a fine header beyond Bialkowski for an instant equaliser.
Two games into the new season and two goals for the captain, and further evidence of Ling’s influence on pushing the skipper into more advanced positions from his base in the midfield engine room.
The swift exchange of goals gave the Gulls confidence to keep attacking their hosts, who looked surprised by the skill and fluency being displayed by their League 2 visitors.
Southampton needed inspiration and they were almost gifted an opportunity after a rare lapse in concentration from goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, but Brian Saah was perfectly positioned to sweep the ball clear.
Lambert then took the plaudits with a delightful free-kick curled beyond Olejnik that summed up his Championship quality, although United will feel aggrieved at the initial decision of a foul after a seemingly good tackle by Mansell.
This incredibly open game had taken another twist and the Gulls were once again forced to dig down into their reserves of spirit to fight back from a goal behind.
United did have the ball in the net again minutes after Lambert’s strike. Morris delivered another superb cross and Atieno thundered his header past Bialkowski, but the assistant’s flag was harshly raised against the Kenyan.
The Gulls kept applying pressure on the home defence right up to the interval and the Saints were the happier side to hear the whistle for half-time.
Mansell broke clear in the opening minute of the second half but was thwarted by an excellent challenge from Morgan Schneiderlin in a case of more positive intent from Ling’s impressively attacking team.
At the other end, Saah was having a stormer after a difficult debut on the weekend and the overall performance was one to make every Yellow proud. The delivery of Morris was a constant threat and Southampton’s defending was bordering on panic at times.
Holmes relieved the pressure briefly after combining with Lambert but the winger’s chip lacked the direction to cause genuine stress for Olejnik. Ling then made his first change of the evening, introducing Lathaniel Rowe-Turner for Nicholson.
The substitute took just two minutes to make an impression, latching on to a threaded pass from the fabulous Howe and Rowe-Turner’s cracking drive smashed into the post and away to safety.
Ling turned to Stevens in favour of McPhee for the final 17 minutes of a game in which United had done more than enough to be on level terms with their illustrious hosts.
The final roll of Ling’s dice was to replace the impressive Morris with Lloyd Macklin but the new man had barely entered the field when Saah was producing a superb goal-saving challenge.
Moments later, the whole of St Mary’s stood in awe as Bialkowski produced a brilliant save to deny a Stevens header after Macklin had picked out his opposite winger with a tremendous cross.
It was a wonderful save and Southampton took full advantage to seal the win with a strike from Chaplow deflecting off Rowe-Turner and past Olejnik for a 3-1 lead for the slightly fortunate home side.
The Gulls were dealt a cruel blow in the final seconds, with substitute Jonathan Forte adding a fourth for the relieved Saints. Southampton will move forward to the next stage but United can take huge confidence forward to their next game, a reunion with former manager Paul Buckle at Bristol Rovers.
Southampton (4-4-2): 21 Bartosz Bialkowski; 12 Danny Butterfield, 25 Daniel Seaborne, 16 Aaron Martin, 23 Ryan Dickson; 33 Steve De Ridder (14 Dean Hammond 70), 4 Morgan Schneiderlin, 18 Richard Chaplow, 24 Lee Holmes (20 Adam Lallana 70); 7 Richard Lambert, 10 Guly Do Prado (17 Jonathan Forte 78). Substitutes (not used): 1 Kelvin Davis (GK), 2 Frazer Richardson, 3 Dan Harding, 8 Jack Cork.
Gulls (4-4-2): 1 Bobby Olejnik; 18 Joe Oastler, 6 Brian Saah, 5 Chris Robertson, 3 Kevin Nicholson (2 Lathaniel Rowe-Turner 64); 16 Chris McPhee (19 Danny Stevens 73), 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 10 Eunan O’Kane, 11 Ian Morris (14 Lloyd Macklin 79); 9 Rene Howe, 23 Taiwo Atieno. Substitutes (not used): 4 Mark Ellis, 13 Martin Rice (GK), 17 Saul Halpin, 22 Damon Lathrope.
Referee: David Phillips
Attendance: 6,541 (348 away).
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