Saints' hopes of reaching the Elite Group Stage of the U21 league were dealt a blow following a 4-0 defeat to Tottenham at White Hart Lane. The scoreline was slightly harsh on Martin Hunter's boys, who held their own for much of the match. The lethal finishing of a much more experienced Spurs side made all the difference however.
Frazer Richardson was expected to make his comeback from injury in this fixture, but wasn't included in the travelling party. Danny Butterfield was the only senior player involved. Ben Reeves was the only other Saints player over the age of 19. Spurs in contrast had a lot more experience and power in their side. The likes of Dean Parrett and Jon Obika have already had successful loan spells in the Football League. Tom Carroll and former Saints loanee Yago Falque have appeared in Tottenham's first team on more than one occasion this season. Saints also had to do without Calum Chambers and Jack Stephens, who were on international duty for England U19's.
Spurs made a bright start to the game and could have been ahead inside the first minute, with the ball flashing across the Saints goal. The home side's passing was excellent. Spurs moved the ball about very well. Cristian Ceballos was particularly threatening, attacking down the left-hand side. Saints created plenty of chances of their own in the first half, but were dealt an early blow when Lloyd Isgrove was forced off injured. U18 goal-scoring machine Ryan Seager was brought on as a replacement. On 13 minutes Jake Sinclair had Saints' first chance of the game, firing a low shot straight at the Tottenham keeper. The away side continued to pepper the Spurs goal, with Hoskins and Seager going close.
Hoskins had a glorious chance to give Saints the lead on 21 minutes, but saw his shot was easily gathered by Lawrence Vigouroux. 30 seconds later Spurs were ahead. A rapid counter attack was finished off brilliantly by Falque. Spurs really took control of the game after that, making it 2-0 three minutes later through Obika, who headed in from Carroll's cross. The game remained very open throughout the first-half, with both sides creating chances. Sinclair was put through on goal just before the break, but stumbled on the ball at the last moment. Tottenham then punished Saints on the counter attack once again to make it 3-0, with Falque grabbing his second of the night. Going on this display, you wonder why the Spaniard didn't see more playing time at St Marys last season.
The second-half was a lot less action packed than the first. Spurs were well on top for the most part, but Saints never stopped playing football either. There was very little in the way of goal-scoring opportunities. The few chances Saints did get were squandered. The away side sprung the offside trap on two separate occasions, with Hoskins missing a one-on-one with Vigouroux. Saints weren't completely out of it until 81 minutes, when Ivorian substitute Souleymane Coulibaly blasted in a powerful effort from just outside the area. Ben Reeves was incredibly unlucky not to grab a consolation goal in stoppage time, twisting and turning on the edge of the area, before having his shot tipped over the bar by Vigouroux.
Spurs were far superior to Saints and clearly deserved their win, but the four goal margin was probably a tad harsh. Hunter's outfit stuck to their footballing principles throughout, and created just as many chances as Tottenham. Saints were actually pretty solid at the back despite the score-line. Jordan Turnbull and Bevis Mugabi were particularly impressive through the middle. Saints are still within a chance of making the Elite Stage Group, but the long term picture is far more important. Hunter's young team will have benefited from playing at a top-class stadium. For many it was the toughest game they have ever been part of. Most of the players in this team will be together for a few more years at least, and will only get better with experience.
Johns: 6. Solid handling of the ball, kicking could have been better
Butterfield: 7. Showed his class throughout, very intelligent decision making. Passing and crossing decent
Mugabi: 7. Made a number of well-timed challenges
Turnbull: 7. Did well bringing the ball out from the back. Defensively sound too
Targett: 7. 17 year old acquitted himself fairly well, making some good runs down the left
Curtis: 6. Put in some hefty challenges, but didn't really impose himself in on the game. Was chasing shadows for much of the game
Moore: 6. Up against a very touch Spurs midfield, but did produce some good passes
Sinclair: 6. Started brightly, creating a few openings for Hoskins, but ran out of steam in the second half.
Reeves: 8. A class act yet again. Worked his way out of a number of tight situations with his skill. Didn't deserve to be on the losing side
Isgrove: So disappointing to see him go off injured so early, coming off the back of an impressive display for the first team at Leeds
Hoskins: 6. Got himself in a number of good positions, but wasteful in front of goal.
Seager: 6. U21 debut for the free-scoring striker. Didn't look entirely comfortable playing out wide.
Gape: Another well-deserved call-up from the U18's
Young: Got a few good touches in towards the end of the game