Buoyed by the chance to face Arsenal in the fourth round this weekend, both sides were positive in their approach, but it was Saints who showed the greater attacking prowess and ultimately came out on top at St. Mary’s.
Nlundulu struck early for the hosts and it was none other than James Ward-Prowse who was on target late on with a trademark free-kick to grab a second and get the team’s FA Cup campaign off to the perfect start.
Youth and experience for Saints
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s squad was down to the bare bones, with just four players from Saturday’s Premier League defeat at Leicester City keeping their places in the starting XI, as Saints fielded a mixture of both youth and experience – including debuts for Academy products Caleb Watts and Kegs Chauke.
It was only the third FA Cup meeting between the two sides and, unsurprisingly, it was the home side who were in command in the early stages against their League One opponents.
Quick feet from debutant Watts set up Jake Vokins early on, and he forced keeper Matija Sarkic to tip the ball over the top for a corner. It wasn’t long until Hasenhuttl’s side made the breakthrough, though.
Nlundulu strikes early
On his first start for Saints, Nlundulu broke the deadlock just 16 minutes in as he fired the ball low across goal and past Wolves loanee Sarkic after doing well to work himself into space in the area.
The visitors, to their credit, remained undeterred by the goal, and almost provided an instant response as Josh Vela fired a shot from long range, but it went over Fraser Forster’s bar.
At the other end, Watts then had a chance to make it a debut to remember but could not keep his shot down from just outside the area.
The visitors showed no sign of slowing down as half time approached. Forster was forced to make a fine save to deny Shaun Whalley the equaliser, before Harry Chapman’s cross the from right took a massive deflection off Jack Stephens, but a collective sigh of relief was breathed as the ball headed behind for a corner.
The first half statistics highlighted Saints’ dominance, but with the score at only 1-0 the visitors were still very much in contention.
It was a quiet start to the second half, with only Chapman’s wayward strike the only thing to note early on.
Upon the hour mark, Ward-Prowse fired in a corner and Saints came close to their second as Stephens got on the end of the delivery at close range, only for Sarkic to make another crucial save to keep his team in the game.
Watts continued to threaten on his first appearance for Saints, as he was picked out in space by Vokins’ cutback, but Sarkic saved his effort across goal before Aaron Pierre somehow hooked the ball off the line after it rebounded back towards the net.
Just a couple of minutes later, Whalley whipped in a dangerous free kick towards Matthew Pennington, but the Saints duly defended well at the concession of a corner.
It wasn’t long before both made an impact, with Armstrong firing wide from the edge of the area before Adams was played through on goal, but after skipping past the keeper he took too long over his finish and was denied by great defending from Pierre again.
However, with just minutes to go the hosts made the game safe. Ward-Prowse lined up another set-piece and, in his own true style, bent the ball over the wall and into the corner of the net, sealing Saints’ passage into round four of the FA Cup.
With a host of Academy players already on the pitch, Hasenhuttl then sent on Alexandre Jankewitz and Ryan Finnigan to make their senior debuts, completing another memorable night for the club’s youngsters, as they helped ensure it was Saints who marched on to Saturday’s tie with Arsenal.