After 41 days away out of action due to the World Cup break, Saints made a victorious return to action on Tuesday night, as a brace from Che Adams saw them come from behind to beat Lincoln City and book their place in the League Cup quarter- finals.
The occasion also marked Nathan Jones’ first home game in charge and the former Luton boss wasn’t interested in taking any chances, picking a full-strength starting XI but reverting to a back five system in front of Gavin Bazunu in goal.
Lyanco started alongside Armel Bella-Kotchap and Mohammed Salisu in a trio of centre-backs with Kyle Walker-Peters making his first start since October after recovering from a hamstring injury. Romain Perraud was given the nod across from Walker-Peters with James Ward-Prowse, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Moi Elyounoussi marshalling the midfield.
There were no starting opportunities for young flyers Samuel Edozie and Sekou Mara, though, with the experience of Che Adams and Adam Armstrong preferred up front.
Despite the strength of the team on paper, it was the League One visitor who struck first in bizarre fashion after less than two minutes.
A corner was partially cleared to Maitland-Niles who mishit it back towards goal where Bazunu’s desperate punch under pressure could only glance the ball into the back of the net.
Confusion reigned as the referee initially seemed to raise his hand offside before signaling for the goal – handing Jones and his new team a rotten return.
It took until the 17th minute of a painfully slow start for Saints to muster their first shot, Elyounoussi flashing an effort wide from just outside the box.
Adams then had a big chance to level after a deft flick from Armstrong sent him through on goal but the Scottish international saw his effort saved.
Fortunately, Saints didn’t have to linger on the missed opportunity for long as Adams did get his goal moments later, heading home from Elyounoussi’s perfect chipped cross to make it 1-1.
And while Saints began to control proceedings following the equaliser, it was Lincoln who had the clearest chance to break the deadlock before half time – Vernam firing too close to Bazunu after a smart cut-back found him free sprinting into the box.
Jones made his first change at the interval, Duje Caleta-Car replacing Bella-Kotchap, but his side struggled to build any momentum forcing the Saints boss back to his bench for a triple-change just past the hour mark with Samuel Edozie, Stuart Armstrong. , and Theo Walcott all entering the fray.
The shake-up seemed to work – to some degree – as Elyounoussi headed over the bar shortly after, before Armstrong fired a rasping drive marginally off-target.
And the increasing pressure finally paid off with 15 minutes to go when Lincoln failed to clear a cross, allowing Adams the space and time to prod home his and his side’s second of the game.
Saints had a chance to finish with a flurry deep into stoppage time when Edozie was presented with an open goal but he somehow failed to find the target. Not that it would matter though as Saints held firm to book their ticket to the last eight of the League Cup.
Saints: Bazunu; Walker-Peters (Edozie, 62), Bella-Kotchap (Caleta-Car, 46), Lyanco, Salisu (S Armstrong, 62), Perraud; Ward-Prowse, Maitland-Niles, Elyounoussi; Adams, A Armstrong (Walcott, 62 (Djenepo, 77))
Unused subs: Diallo, Aribo, Mara, McCarthy (g/k).
Lincoln City: Rushworth, Poole, Jackson, Sanders, Vernam, O’Connor, Walsh (Garrick, 86), House (Hopper, 71), Mandroiu (Bishop, 75), Roughan, Virtue
Unused subs: Oakley-Boothe, Robson, Sorenson, Eyoma, Wright (g/k)
Referee: Jared Gillett.