STOKE CITY’s Under-18s fell to their fifth defeat on the spin as league leaders Southampton ran out 2-0 winners at a wet and blustery Staplewood Training Ground.
Second-half goals from Omar Rowe and George Mells condemned the Potters to defeat despite a spirited display in the Barclays Under-18s Premier League Group 2 match.
They did, in fact, have the better chances in an even first period, but Saints took control after the break and showed the kind of attacking verve that has seen them top the table with just one defeat.
City just about managed to put a competitive team out after being riddled with injuries in the preparation, with Callum Pilkington starting for the first time in the league up front.
Although Southampton were faster out of the blocks, Stoke had the first clear chance at goal after 10 minutes when Ed Sanders’ header found Jack Nardiello, but he scooped his effort over the bar.
Moments later, Kris Scott nearly benefited from a miscued clearance from Saints’ stopper Will Britt, though the ‘keeper redeemed himself with a fine save to deny the shot.
Stoke remained solid at the back despite their depleted line-up, and Gboly Ariyibi was left frustrated as his tame shot for the hosts meant an easy save for Dale Eve on 22 minutes.
The game evened out but City went close against when a free-kick was given just outside the box, from which Nardiello was only denied by an excellent stretching stop from Britt.
Pilkington then had a shot blocked at the last-minute with the goal at his mercy after a good run from Nathan Ricketts-Hopkinson on the right, and half-time came with the Potters perhaps feeling slightly aggrieved that the match remained all square.
The hosts upped the tempo after the break and after Rowe had fizzed a shot wide of the post, the tricky winger broke the deadlock on 64 minutes.
Charlie Higgins worked himself some space before sliding in the number 11, and his powerful shot squirmed under Eve and nestled into the back of the net.
Ariyibi then forced a fine stop from City’s Bermudan ‘keeper, as Southampton looked to take advantage of the Potters’ diminished attacking threat.
City made changes to try and affect the flow of the contest, but it was to little avail as Southampton continued on the front foot with Ryan Seager firing wide from the left channel.
Stoke’s closest sight of goal came in the 83rd minute as Cook moved forward from right-back and curled a left-footed shot that only just missed the far post by a matter of inches.
As City threw men forward in the dying moments to get a leveller, Saints caught them on the counter-attack to get the winner deep into stoppage-time – substitute Mells crashed a shot in off the post from 20 yards to secure the three points.
Stoke City: Eve; Cook, Sanders, Hulme, Taylor; Ricketts-Hopkinson (Swaby 65), Scott, Monlouis, Makrillos (Lecygne 70), Nardiello; Pilkington (Richards 76).
Southampton: Britt; Flanagan, Colmer, McCarthy, Nehemie; Ariyibi (Kayembe 69), Higgins, Reed, Hesketh (Sims 69), Rowe (Mells 82); Seager.