Southampton 3 Colchester United 2
Teenage striker Dexter Blackstock rescued Southampton from further humiliation in this trial of a season with a stunning second half hat-trick – after being dropped.
The 18-year-old ruined would-be Carling Cup giantkillers Colchester’s night after a victory in the previous round against West Brom with a trio of close-range strikes, all of them set up by fellow substitute Paul Telfer.
Telfer’s free kick, when the Coca-Cola League One side were leading after an early breakthrough, produced the first of two goals in five minutes soon after half time for Blackstock, who had been left out in favour of fellow youngster Leon Best despite an impressive performance against Birmingham on Sunday.
That looked decisive considering Saints had not scored in their four previous Premiership games but after Blackstock’s 50th minute leveller – his first for the club – goalkeeper Dean Gerken’s error compounded an earlier one by Greg Halford who gave away possession in his own area, leading to Blackstock’s second goal after David Prutton’s shot was spilled.
And although Halford pulled Colchester back into it at 2-2 on 64 minutes, Blackstock struck again nine minutes from time and there was no way back for the Essex battlers.
On-loan Blackburn midfielder Neil Danns headed Colchester into the lead they had already deserved after just seven minutes when Southampton failed to properly clear a corner.
They should have been in front even earlier, even though they were glad to see Belgian full-back Jelle Van Damme’s free kick slip wide after just two minutes having taken a couple of deflections following Pat Baldwin’s foul on Ormerod.
In the third minute, Stephen Hunt’s pass put Fagan in behind Claus Lundekvam and clear on goal before the big Norwegian seemed to nudge him over. Referee Michael Jones ignored the penalty protests.
But it only spurred Colchester on to greater efforts and Gavin Johnson collected Joe Keith’s pass to force a good save from Antti Niemi. And Saints were too tentative in trying to clear a Keith corner two minutes later, giving Baldwin the chance to lift the ball back into the area where Danns, one of the smallest players on the pitch, jumped to head past the stranded Niemi.
Southampton, without a goal in their four previous Premiership games, were guilty of sloppy play all over the pitch an it seemed to be developing into another St Mary’s nightmare for the fans, who failed to see their team produce a decent attack against visitors who out-passed them despite lying 27 places in the league below them.
The home fans in a three-quarters-full stadium, already bemoaning the continued absence of injured top strikers James Beattie, Kevin Phillips, Marian Pahars and Peter Crouch were stunned into near-silence by this latest turn of events – until Blackstock’s dramatic entry for the second half.
First he nudged home a free kick from fellow substitute Telfer on 50 minutes and then grabbed his second four minutes later, clipping home from an awkward angle after Gerken spilled Prutton’s soft shot.
Despite some late pressure in the first half Gerken did not have a serious save to make before the interval but his was not the only error that helped put Saints in front.
Emergency striker Halford, normally a full-back, dropped into defence for a Telfer corner but dallied in possession at the edge of the area and was robbed by Prutton who fired the shot which the keeper could not hold.
But Halford, up front with the dangerous Fagan because of striker Ben May’s suspension, made amends by grabbing a 64th minute equaliser from his strike partner’s cross after Darren Kenton’s slip allowed a clear run up the left.
Colchester looked the more likely winners again at that stage but once more the Telfer-Blackstock combination paid off, the tall teenager nodding home the winger’s free kick from practically underneath the crossbar.