The cavalry arrived. The cavalry saved the day for Southampton.
Just three minutes away from a nailbiting penalty shootout, Charlie Austin planted a header past David Button just moments after coming on as a late substitute to ensure Southampton’s passage into the next round of the Carabao Cup.
The dramatic end brought an exhilarating climax to what was largely a dull encounter at the Amex Stadium.
Charlie Austin won the game for Southampton with a late header against Brighton
The Southampton players celebrate in front of their travelling fans after Austin’s goal
Austin enjoys a moment of his own with the supporters after scoring late on
Southampton boss Mark Hughes celebrates with his goalscorer after the final whistle
BRIGHTON (4-5-1): Button 7; Collar 6, Barclay 6.5, Bernardo 7, Suttner 6; Jahanbakhsh 5.5, Bissouma 7, Gross 6 (Propper 63, 6), Kayal 6 (Connolly 90), Gyokeres 7; Locadia 6.5.
SUBS NOT USED: Steele, Balogun, Montoya, Stephens, Knockaert.
MANAGER: Chris Hughton 6
SOUTHAMPTON: Gunn 6; Stephens 6, Bednarek 6, Yoshida 6, Targett 6; Romeu 6 (Gallagher 70), Ward-Prowse 7.5; Elyounoussi 6, Davis 6, Armstrong 6 (Redmond 80); Gabbiadini 6 (Austin 80).
SUBS NOT USED: Lewis, Vestergaard, Hoedt, McQueen.
GOAL: Austin, 88
MANAGER: Mark Hughes 6
REFEREE: Andre Marriner: 6
MOTM: James Ward-Prowse
There were moments when this tie threatened to catch fire; particularly during its dying embers. In the end, Austin provided the telling contribution moments to earn Southampton their first win this season.
‘It’s pleasing, we always felt always in control and in command of the situation, Saints boss Mark Hughes said.
‘It’s good to get the first win but we want to progress now, we made changes but still had a strong team which shows our strength in depth.’
Both managers demonstrated how important, or more pertinently unimportant, the Carabao Cup is to their respective priorities list by making 10 changes apiece.
And who can blame them? Both clubs would forgo this trophy for guaranteed top-flight football next season.
Brighton boss Chris Hughton handed three academy players Ben Barclay, Victor Gyokeres and Will Collar their senior debuts in a significantly understrength starting XI.
Despite the alterations, Saints manager Mark Hughes’ team was vastly more experienced, perhaps more in necessity following his team’s difficult start to the season.
But neither side asserted any sort of authority during a largely uninspiring opening 45 minutes that was played at the pace of a pre-season friendly.
Southampton probably just shaded it, not that you’d know it by Hughes’ tetchy demeanour on the touchline.
Southampton’s Mohamed Elyounoussi tries to turn the ball at goal in the first half
Iran star Alireza Jahanbakhsh was given his first start at Brighton against Southampton
Brighton’s Beram Kayal jostles for possession with Southampton’s Jan Bednarek
Maya Yoshida and Mohamed Elyounoussi were denied in quick succession in the eight minute, before Brighton replied with efforts of their own from Yves Bissouma and Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Iranian Jahanbakhsh, just moments after copping an earful from Hughton for not tracking back, then flashed an effort from the edge of the area narrowly wide.
Gradually, though, Southampton’s greater experience began to tell. First, Stuart Armstrong saw his generous strike from 20 yards fly wide after loose play from Jahanbakhsh in midfield before Manolo Gabbiadini forced a smart save from David Button in the 37th minute.
Armstong went agonisingly close to opening the scoring on the stroke of half-time with a beautifully executed curling effort that arced just over Button’s near post.
Saints defender Bednarek pushes on as the travelling supporters watch on against Brighton
Angus Gunn made his first Southampton appearance after joining from Manchester City
Saints boss Hughes greets his opposite number, Chris Hughton, prior to kick-off
The Saints continued their dominance early in the second half, Gabbiadini forcing Button into two more saves, though Gyokeres saw his header stopped by Angus Gunn as Brighton hung in there.
Gyokeres was denied again in the 73rd minute when his angled effort was palmed away by Gunn.
Hughes sent on Austin and Nathan Redmond for the final 10 minutes in search of late winner and the former came up trumps for his team with an emphatic header.