A late equaliser from Stoke City's Edward Dryden denied Southampton Under-18s all three points at Staplewood on Saturday.
A brace from Olufela Olomola looked to have given Anthony Limbrick's side a comeback victory over the Potters until the centre-half's late intervention.
The forward notched either side of half-time after Thomas Shepherd’s 18th-minute opener, but the hosts were denied their third win in five Barclays Under-18 Premier League play-off outings by Dryden's close-range header at the death.
Starting with a youthful side which featured five Under-16s, Saints were on the front foot from the off, with Josh Debayo’s low cross deflected away from the waiting Olomola and Josh Sims – an Under-21 Premier League Cup winner less than a week ago – hooking over after the Potters failed to clear an early corner.
Ollie Cook, captain in the absence of Armani Little, had to be alert after seven minutes to prevent Shepherd from enjoying a clear run to goal, with the centre-half’s challenge whipping the ball away from the striker.
Seconds later, Liam Smith took aim at Jake Hallett’s goal, and only a timely block prevented John Perkins’ youngsters from taking the lead against the run of play.
It was a sign that Stoke posed a considerable threat on the counter, and on the 18th minute, striker Shepherd gave them the lead, applying the finishing touch barely a minute after Sims had seen his header acrobatically cleared off the line by Toby Wells.
It was a breathless first 45, exemplified by the speed at which Limbrick’s team got themselves back in the game. Midfielder Dan Jarvis had earlier lost possession in the middle, presenting Olomola with an opportunity he eventually dragged wide. When Jarvis repeated the error after 22 minutes, though, Southampton’s number nine wasn’t quite so charitable.
After racing clear, Olomola looked to have taken himself a bit wide of the goal but, with his unfavoured left foot, he slotted low beyond Chris Marques to level the scores.
Goalkeeper Hallett, favoured to Harry Isted between the sticks, was afforded a relatively quiet first period, despite City’s bluster in the final third. At the other end, it was Olomola again who went close to putting the hosts in the lead, shooting just wide of the right-hand post after being put through by Josh Sims as the half drew to a close.
And after the restart, it was Sims who created the first chance. Getting the better of skipper Lewis Banks down Stoke’s right flank, he centred for Tyreke Johnson, who connected well but found former Southampton defender Josh Williams sliding in to block the goalbound effort.
Stuart Wilkin, in the number 10 role, grew in stature after the break, and it was his assist which brought Saints’ second goal. Olomola, who enjoyed a fine afternoon at the point of the attack, notched his second with 27 minutes left on the clock.
Almost immediately, they looked to make it three. Siph Mdlalose, who replaced Sims, could have made it three just seconds after coming on for his debut. The pacy wideman met Wilkin’s cross with a venomous shot that was destined for the roof of the net, but Marques produced a fine instinctive save to deny him.
Wilkin was close to getting in on the act himself not long after, latching on to Olomola’s cute through ball and rounding Marques, but the offside flag denied him the chance to grab a goal.
The tiring Olomola was withdrawn with just over ten minutes remaining and, in his absence, City equalised. Dryden's header from four yards out left Hallett with no chance after a corner had been nodded back into the box, cruelly depriving Saints of the win.
Southampton: Jake Hallett, Connor Langan, Josh Debayo, Ben Rowthorn, Ollie Cook, Alfie Jones, Josh Sims (Siph Mdlalose 64), Dave Musendo, Olufela Olomola (Ben Cull 78), Stuart Wilkin, Tyreke Johnson.
Unused substitutes: Harry Isted, Richard Bakary.
Goal: Olufela Olomola (22, 63)
Stoke City: Chris Marques, Lewis Banks (c) (Thomas Edwards 87), Toby Wells, Freddy Yao, Edward Dryden, Josh Williams, Jake Dunwoody, Daniel Jarvis, Thomas Shepherd, Liam Smith, Theo Brierley (Harvey Reed 88).
Unused substitues: Domonic Kurasik.
Goal: Thomas Shepherd (18), Edward Dryden (89)