Life without Matt Taylor began with a bang as captain Matt Jay and Kegs Chauke secured a 2-1 win against Southampton under-21 in the Papa Johns Trophy.
Interim manager Kevin Nicholson made several changes to Saturday's draw at home to Bristol Rovers bringing in both Harrison King and Ed James for their first team debuts and also starts for Chauke, Jay and Sonny Cox. Other notable names on the bench included Pedro Borges, Andrew Sowden, Gabe Billington and Alfie Clark, with all of these players graduates from the City academy.
An exciting start to the game for both sides, with both attacks heavily pressing both sets of defenders. Southampton having had much more of the ball in the opening five minutes, were unable to test Jamal Blackman in the City net. With the best chance at the start of the game falling to Jay Stansfield, who still looking for his first goal was unable to latch onto a ball put into the box.
A lovely touch of the ball from Alex Hartridge plucked out of the air with ease, got the City crowd cheering with his ball up towards the forwards taken down by Jack Sparkes.
With his first attempt of a corner being cleared away for another corner, captain Matt Jay sent another set-piece into the box. The Saints attempted to clear the ball away, but the ball only went as far as Sparkes who was waiting about 30 yards away from goal, but his volleyed attempt at goal sailed agonisingly over the bar.
Some lovely link up play on the edge of the area between King, Cox and Jay led to another effort on goal from the boys in red and white, but captain Jays half volley effort was comfortably collected by Saints keeper Matt Hall.
After a magical piece of skill on the halfway line, Southampton youngster Sam Amo-Ameyaw found space in the middle of the park, finding another of his teammates on the left hand side who sent a ball to the back post, which found eventual goal scorer Dominic Ballard. His tricky feet in the penalty area helped him past Hartridge allowing him to drill the ball home past Blackman. 1-0 to the Saints.
Clearly wanting to find the back of the net for the first time in a City shirt, Stansfield was putting himself everywhere on the pitch trying to get on the ball at every attempt. The ball eventually fell to the edge of the area on the 26th minute and up stepped Stansfield who unleashed an absolute rocket of an effort, but keeper Hall made yet again another top save.
Down the other end of the pitch and it was that man again Ballard causing all the issues. Every time the ball was at his feet the travelling Saints fans were shouting ‘shoot shoot’, understandable after his effort earlier in the game.
Playing like a wingback with ten years under his belt, debutant King was making a massive nuisance of himself down the right hand side, linking up really well with both Jay and Cox. After a marauding run in the 34th minute he sent in a peach of a cross, but neither strikers were on the same wavelength as him, so the ball found Sparkes at the back post whose effort went out for a corner.
40 minutes gone and City made it 1-1. Who else could it be other than captain fantastic Jay. After the ball was made to pinball around the edge of the Saints penalty area, Jay found himself in plenty of space on the edge of the area. And there was only one thing on his mind, hitting the back of the net, and that is exactly what he did, letting loose and slotting past the stretching Hall in goal.
In the final moments of added time City were awarded a free kick and captain Jay took it into his own hands to take the set piece, a brilliant effort from one of the experienced heads in tonight's side hit the post with his effort, but the first player to the rebound was none other than Southampton loanee Chauke to tap the ball into an empty net. With that being the last bit of play in the first half, City went in 2-1 leaders.
Captain Jay got City underway again for the second half, with neither team making any changes at the break the game restarted the same as it ended.
Saints keeper Hall comes to the rescue once again, after being outmuscled in the air by Cox, the keeper cleared the ball to King, whose magic feet turned the left back inside out and then baring down on goal he thundered a shot straight at the keeper, leading to the Saints defence clearing the ball away.
Jay once again found himself in acres of space in the middle of the pitch, with that space he dinked a lovely cross to Stanfield at the back post, who intricately played the ball back across the area to Cox, but City were unable to make it three. Captain Jay using his years of experience against a vastly inexperienced Saints backline to find the perfect balls.
In the 60th minute Nicholson decided to make a triple change taking off Cox, Sweeney and Hartridge and for them to be replaced by first team regulars Jevani Brown and Josh Key and another player making his first team debut Gabe Billington. Only eight minutes later and Nicholson made his fourth and fifth changes of the game with Sparkes being replaced by Jake Caprice and Rekeem Harper being replaced by another academy graduate in Borges.
The first real effort of the second half for Southampton didn’t come until the 70th minute but that wasn’t without trying. This effort came from Saints Cam Bragg testing the hands of Blackman for the first time in the second half. Even with that effort on goal, the possession and control of the game was all in favour of City.
A very hasty break in play occurred in the 80th minute with City keeper Blackman going down with what appeared to be a muscle injury in his leg, much to the joy of the City fans he was back up on his feet and able to continue.
With the experience on the pitch, City were very much using it to their advantage, after picking the ball up in the middle of the park, Borges played Stansfield in behind the Saints backline and at the first attempt he played in Jay only for his effort not to trouble the keeper
Seconds later, after a silly pull back resulting in a yellow card for Key, Saints captain Lewis Payne sent the resulting free kick into the penalty area and leaping above everyone in the box was Southampton centre half Nico Lawrence whose bullet header shuddered off the underside of the bar. The game was still 2-1, but Southampton very unlucky not to have equalised.
Stansfield still vying for his first goal in red and white found himself once again on the edge of the area after some magical skill from Brown on the left hand side, but his shot on goal was again blocked and sent behind for another City corner.
Deep into added time Saints captian Payne once again found himself standing over a free kick in a dangerous position but after an excellent cross into the box, it sailed over the heads of everyone in the box and out for a City goal kick.
With that being the final piece of action in the game, referee Sunny Gill blew his whistle for full time, and city finish the game 2-1 victors.
On Saturday 8 October, City make the long travel north to Oakwell for a tough away game against Barnsley. Hope to see all you travelling Grecians on the road.
City: Blackman, King, Sweeney (Key), James, Hartridge (Billington), Sparkes (Caprice), Chauke, Harper (Borges), Jay (C), Stansfield, Cox (Brown)
Subs not used: Sowden, Clark
Southampton Under 21s: Hall, Payne (C), Lancashire (Lett), Lawrence, Otseh-Taiwo (Boot), Turner, Bragg, Amo-Ameyaw (Dibling), Bellis, Morgan (Pearce), Ballard (Merry)
Subs not used: Stuart
Referee: Sunny Gill