Southampton and Chelsea met at St Mary’s in Under-21 action three days removed from their respective first teams squaring off at the same venue but the Blues were unable to find the same success as their illustrious counterparts, instead sharing in a 0-0 draw on a frustrating evening on the south coast.
Despite making much the better going throughout the match, Chelsea were unable to find a way through and substitute Tammy Abraham summed up their night when he hit the post at the death. Southampton were quiet for long spells but had perhaps the best chance of the evening when Sam Gallagher missed a late penalty.
At the start of a run of three matches in seven days and with an equally busy schedule for the Under-18s and Under-19s, Adi Viveash handed starts to the likes of Kevin Wright, Josimar Quintero and the newly-contracted Dion Conroy, each of whom have found regular minutes hard to come by this season. Alex Kiwomya led the line in attack upon his return from a month’s loan at Fleetwood Town, whilst Mason Mount earned a first appearance at this level after a stellar season to date for Joe Edwards’ youth team.
Southampton’s team was less experienced than the side that knocked the Blues out of the Under-21 Cup back in January, although they retained a first-team goalkeeper in the form of Paulo Gazzaniga whilst several of their number can claim to have a Premier League appearance to their name. One amongst them, Gallagher, had two early chances to make an impact but spurned the better of them by dragging a shot wide of Brad Collins’ right-hand post inside the first five minutes.
It was a first half full of confident approach play without the execution to match in the final third. Chelsea captain Fankaty Dabo was enterprising and industrious from the right but Kiwomya was unable to make the most of his deliveries in perhaps a manner Abraham might have, and when Gazzaniga was eventually drawn into a save it was a routine one from a low Mount shot.
Kiwomya did similar not long afterwards whilst Gallagher continued to be Southampton’s most potent attacking threat. He nearly got lucky when closing down a Collins clearance but the ball bounced wide, and then he showed good awareness to roll his marker in Ola Aina to fashion a shooting chance that was well closed down by Collins, with Armani Little rather wasteful from the rebound.
Aina himself had a decent sight of goal close to half time when he ghosted into space from a Charlie Colkett corner but was unable to hook an awkward volley on target. The visitors had largely controlled possession through Colkett and Jordan Houghton with Quintero a busy presence in advanced areas but Southampton’s back four was robust enough to repel whatever they had thrown at them.
In an effort to add a greater presence to their attack, Chelsea replaced Quintero with Reece Mitchell at half time with the substitute adopting the centre forward role and Kiwomya moving out wide. Houghton had one or two quick sights of goal snuffed out and a lovely ball by Colkett threatened to release Mount only for the offside flag to scupper things. Southampton responded with set pieces; fifteen year-old left-back Jake Vokins stung the hands of Collins before Alfie Jones flicked a header wide from Little’s delivery from deep.
Abraham entered the contest after an hour with Colkett, only just back from an injury layoff, the man to make way, whilst Fikayo Tomori followed in place of Aina five minutes later. Mount moved into the number ten role with Palmer dropping deeper and the former had another sight of goal when he whipped a shot just over the angle of post and crossbar.
He and Abraham were then both within inches of connecting with good supply into the box and Abraham then wasted a relatively clear header from a corner with a quarter of an hour remaining and Chelsea upping the ante in search of all three points. So, naturally, Southampton had a great chance to do that themselves with nine minutes left on the clock when Dabo was adjudged to have brought Gallagher down in the box. The Saints number nine took the penalty himself but slammed it high over the crossbar.
It offered Chelsea one last chance at going home with the win and it almost came their way a minute from time. Palmer flicked a pass in Abraham’s direction and the prolific front man connected with a spinning volley that came back off the post. Kiwomya had a final look coming in from the right but, with time and space, he hurried his effort into Gazzaniga’s grasp and ensured a 0-0 full time result.
Attentions now turn to Thursday night when the Under-21s host PSV Eindhoven in the Semi Finals of the Under-21 International Cup. Entry at Aldershot’s EBB Stadium is free and the match will also be shown live on Chelsea TV.
Southampton: Gazzaniga, Gape (c), Vokins, Reed, Cook, Jones, Olomola, Little, Gallagher, O’Connor (Sims 73), Hesketh
Subs not Used: Lewis, Valery, N’Lundulu, Willard
Chelsea: Collins, Dabo (c), Aina (Tomori 65), Conroy, Wright, Colkett (Abraham 60), Quintero (Mitchell 45), Houghton, Kiwomya, Palmer, Mount
Subs not Used: Thompson, Scott