George Sessions, PA
Teenager Dominic Ballard earned the praise of Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl after he netted in their 3-0 victory away to Cambridge in the Carabao Cup second round.
Ballard (17) was introduced with quarter of an hour remaining and made the most of his opportunity with a goal in the 88th minute.
Academy graduate Ballard saw his first effort with his right foot well saved by Will Mannion but followed up impressively to rifle into the roof of the net and spark wild celebrations from the 1,451 Saints supporters who had packed out the South Stand at Abbey Stadium.
A rendition of ‘he’s one of our own’ had already greeted Ballard onto the pitch and his strike made him the fifth youngster goalscorer in the club’s history behind an illustrious list which includes Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gareth Bale and current skipper James Ward-Prowse.
Hasenhuttl said: “It was a good goal, a good celebration and he enjoys this absolutely.
“It is always nice to see with young lads how much they enjoy playing with you and how much they enjoy scoring for you.
“You could feel immediately how much it means to him and this is good because he wanted to score this goal. First wasn’t in, but the rebound was and it was a goal, so this is good to see.”
Saints manager Hasenhuttl appeared eager to temper expectations on a forward who has generated a lot of buzz during the past 12 months and signed a first professional deal with the Premier League outfit in April.
Ballard was not the only Southampton academy graduate to debut against Cambridge with Lewis Payne handed a first-team debut and impressive in the right-back position where he assisted Che Adams’ opener.
“Good game for him,” Hasenhuttl said of the 18-year-old.
“It was a beautiful first assist to find the right player in the box and he made some good runs outside.
“What I really liked was that he lifted his head and saw what the right pass to make was. It was clear that he was a little tired at the end as he invested a lot, but it’s always good when you come in, start a game and can play that long for a young player – it’s fantastic.”
Hasenhuttl did not only enjoy the performances of Southampton’s young duo but also the cheeseboard Cambridge put together for him which included brie, stilton and cheddar.
U’s head coach Mark Bonner revealed: “In the five minutes we had he complimented the cheeseboard in the office we offered him.
“What he did say is he loved the stadium, the atmosphere, the friendliness of the environment and really enjoyed the game. All nice things to say when you’ve won but I think he genuinely meant it.”