A spirited second-half fightback was not enough as we were narrowly beaten 2-1 by Southampton at London Colney on Saturday afternoon.
Despite having no game for the last two weeks, we looked sharp from the first minute and almost went ahead when Osman Kamara got in behind the visitors' backline, but his cutback across goal was cleared away just before Omari Benjamin could poke it home.
The Saints grew into the game and forced Alex Kovacevic into a number of smart early stops, the highlight being with his feet to put an end to a goalmouth scramble.
Just past the half-hour mar, we went close on two occasions when Benjamin fired into the side netting from close range and shortly after, Oulad M’hand’s long-range effort curled just shy of the post.
Our joy in the first half came mainly down the flanks and we got in behind again, but Seb Ferdinand’s delivery gazed agonisingly across the box with no one there to follow up.
However, Southampton pressed us high up the pitch and enjoyed large spells of possession and eventually made that pressure count from the penalty spot when the referee penalised us for an apparent shirt pull.
Kovacevic carried on his heroics in the second half by tipping an effort onto the post for a corner.
The away side doubled their lead just past the hour when Kovacevic’s save unfortunately deflected back off our player and trickled into the net.
Despite the setback, we responded almost instantly when Benjamin was brought down in the box after a surging run and Ferdinand sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot.
Jack Wilshere made three changes in the closing stages as we pushed hard for an equaliser, but Southampton’s backline stood strong to take the three points back to the south coast.
WHAT WAS SAID
After the match, Wilshere was proud of his side's second-half performance, despite the narrow defeat.
“There’s something in this group where they have a never-say-die attitude and we showed that when we went 2-0 down," he said.
"Of course, we always want to win, but ultimately this level is all about learning and developing.
"The best way to develop is to learn from your mistakes and we’re training really hard to correct the errors we make.
Goalscorer Ferdinand was also keen to highlight the positives after his penalty almost sparked a second-half comeback.
“Despite the loss, we have got a great spirit in our group and we’re a tight bunch," he said.
"We know as a team we can perform better than that and the second-half resilience that we showed is what we need to do throughout the whole game.”
WHAT IT MEANS
We remain sixth in the Under-18 Premier League on nine points after seven matches played.
We're back in Under-18 Premier League action next week, when we host league-leaders West Ham on Saturday, November 26.
Kick-off at London Colney is at 11am (UK time).
Starting XI: Kovacevic, Nichols, Small, Brown, Oulad M’Hand, Ismail (John, 63), Dudziak (Ryan, 88), Roberts (Green, 63), Ferdinand, Kamara, Benjamin
Substitutes not used: Okonkwo
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