Sam Gallagher’s impressive brace helped Saints Under-18s to a dramatic 3-3 draw in their Barclays Under-18 Premier League clash with Liverpool.
The towering forward spearheaded a heroic second-half comeback from Southampton after they found themselves two goals down early into their encounter at the Reds’ academy in Kirkby.
Under-18s Coach Jason Dodd felt that the side’s impressive response certainly warranted a point from the match.
Unfortunately for Southampton, Liverpool immediately capitalised on the home advantage as they broke into the lead inside the first minutes through HARRY WILSON.
An incisive flick from Jerome Sinclair allowed Cameron Brannagan to slide a first-time pass through to the Wales international whose side-footed effort slipped underneath the arm of the onrushing Harry Isted and into the near corner.
The early surge from Liverpool failed to relent as they pushed forward in search of a greater goal tally. A couple of minutes after the opener Ryan Kent raced down the left flank and flashed a dangerous ball across the face of goal but drew no contact in the six-yard box.
Saints thought they’d come agonsingly close to levelling soon after when Jake Hesketh turned away from a challenge and slid the ball through for Marcus Barnes to lift a shot narrowly wide, although the offside flag was raised.
Optimism gained from that sight of goal for the visitors was dampened somewhat just before the quarter-hour mark.
Intricate passing from the hosts resulted in Kent laying the ball across to DANIEL TRICKETT-SMITH on the edge of the area. The playmaker bided his time before shifting the ball so he could bend a curling shot beyond the outstretched arm of the diving Isted and into the corner of the net.
Shortly after the half-hour mark, Saints thought they’d halved the deficit when Barnes was judged to have been offside when finding the net. Armani Little knocked the ball through to the striker who dragged an effort past Ryan Crump. Unfortunately, initial joy was swiftly quashed by the linesman’s flag being raised.
Frustration for the Saints continued when Gallagher failed to take advantage of Hesketh’s defence-splitting pass immediately after. The pass gave the frontman a clear run at goal but it could be argued that Gallagher hit the effort a little too early, whipping a 20-yard shot around Crump but inches wide.
As Saints’ confidence grew towards the end of the first half, Gallagher was instrumental in the visitors nearly notching a goal back. The powerful striker held the ball up before pulling it back for Sims to slam a goal bound attempt was blocked by Jordan Williams.
HALF-TIME: LIVERPOOL U18S 2-0 SOUTHAMPTON U18S
A resurgent Southampton continued in the same manner as they ended the first 45 minutes and were prevented by a last-ditch block by Conor Randall. Gallagher nodded a long ball into the path of Josh Sims and just as the youngster struck, Randall made the vital intervention to deflect the ball off-course.
GALLAGHER’s efforts up top began to pay dividends on the hour mark when composed movement from the forward enabled him to pull a deserved goal back for the visitors.
A pinpoint pass from deep by Kyle Clinton found Gallagher, who calmly rounded the ‘keeper and slotted in from an acute angle to make it 2-1.
That proved to be the catalyst for a constant Saints onslaught that then provided the leveller seven minutes later, courtesy of HESKETH. An initial shot from Barnes was parried into the path of the well-placed Hesketh who quickly reacted by prodding into the gaping net as Crump was recovering.
In a period that brought plenty of goalmouth action, Southampton sadly saw their hard work to make a comeback undone with 20 minutes remaining. An apparent lack of communication between Josh Debayo and Isted – who raced out of his net to claim an over-hit ball – resulted in the ball bouncing off Debayo to JEROME SINCLAIR who gratefully tucked into the open net from point-blank range.
Despite the exciting scenes that the second-half gave, there was still yet more drama to come as Saints drew level again in the dying stages of the encounter.
Shortly after seeing their own defence exposed and having to rely on an impressive save by Isted to deny Wilson a second goal, intense pressing from the visitors gifted GALLAGHER the opportunity to secure his brace and a point.
Liverpool surrendered possession deep into their half, allowing Gallagher the chance to swiftly pounce with an unstoppable first-time effort that was drilled beyond the helpless Crump and into the corner to ensure Saints ended the game with a share of the spoils.
FULL TIME: LIVERPOOL U18S 3-3 SOUTHAMPTON U18S
Despite the frustrating manner in which the side fell behind on separate occasions, Dodd was pleased with the admirable reaction.
Speaking to saintsfc.co.uk after the game, the U18s coach said: “We just didn’t start the game. We’ve had previous games against Manchester United and Chelsea where we were behind before we even started playing.
“Each game we concede from mistakes. We can’t keep gifting opposition goals. Our goals are not often gifted – we have to work hard to score.
“The last 15 minutes of the second half we got back in the game by pressing together and not chasing the game. In the second half, we battered them. If we hadn’t have got the draw, I think it would have been a travesty. We thoroughly deserved it after a shambolic first 20 minutes of the game.
After witnessing Saints drag themselves back into contention for a point with Gallagher’s dramatic late strike, Dodd was pleased with how the side’s pressing paid off and felt that it epitomised the hard-working attitude that has been typical of Saints’ U18s.
“Pressing is what we work on daily,” he continued. “It’s great when it works, as in the lads are seeing the work that they put in is getting rewards. Sam Gallagher has got another good goal from it.
“We talk about quality in the final third, which is a continuous target of ours. Earlier in the season, when we were regaining the ball we kept giving it away. We know what we’ve got to do. The long journey back now is a good one because we thoroughly deserved to get a point today.
“I was pleased with the spirit, without a shadow of a doubt. That typifies what we’re about. That’s how we work and that’s how you should work. If you have that, then the technical and tactical ability will take over and you become a very decent side.”
Southampton Under-18s: Harry Isted, Tom Leggett (c), Kyle Clinton, Josh Debayo, Isaac Nehemie, Armani Little, Charlie Higgins (George Mells 38), Jake Hesketh (Mark Irvine 76), Marcus Barnes (Dan Demkiv 76), Josh Sims, Sam Gallagher. Unused substitutes: James White (GK), Colm Deasy.