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Saints earned a 1-1 draw at Championship outfit Bristol City in their penultimate match of pre-season.

Substitute Billy Sharp pounced deep into injury time to cancel out Robins striker Jon Stead’s sweetly-struck first-half effort.

With the opening game of the new campaign edging ever closer, Nigel Adkins named a strong side, once again deploying three central midfield players with the wide pairing of Jay Rodriguez and Jason Puncheon supporting lone striker Rickie Lambert.

Unsurprisingly, it was Saints who dominated the early stages, albeit without a breakthrough.

Rodriguez had the first effort, turning on the edge of the area after receiving Danny Fox’s throw-in, only for Dean Gerken to get down well to save his shot.

A fluent move two minutes later gave Saints’ record signing another sight of goal, but he blazed over from just inside the box.

Lallana then flashed a left foot effort wide of the far post after latching onto Lambert’s knockdown 18 yards out in the ninth minute.

Saints should have gone in front when Morgan Schneiderlin pounced on Liam Fontaine’s loose pass out of defence, but Ward-Prowse shot straight at Gerken after being slipped in by the Frenchman.

Against the run of play it was actually the hosts who took the lead, as Stead curled home a low shot from 20 yards after receiving Albert Adomah’s lay-off in the 36th minute.

Rodriguez’s deflected shot nearly levelled matters immediately, but an off-balance Gerken did well to stick out a hand and stop it.

Kelvin Davis had to make a good diving stop four minutes before the interval, as Adomah fired in a rasping 25-yard effort after turning Jose Fonte.

Adkins made three changes at the break, with Frazer Richardson, Steven Davis and Jack Cork, who was returning from Olympic duty, coming on.

Like the start of the first half, Saints controlled possession at the beginning of the second, but were unable to translate that dominance into a goal – or even a significant chance.

Lallana was withdrawn just after the hour mark, with Guly do Prado replacing him and being thrust into the unusual position of central midfield.

Eventually, in the 71st minute, the first real effort of the second half arrived. It came from Bristol City, though, as Adomah burst through the middle and fed Stead on the edge of the area.

He in turn found substitute Martyn Woolford around about the penalty spot, but Davis reacted well to keep out his low shot.

Half-time sub Cork had to be helped off late on with what appeared to be a nasty-looking ankle injury.

Sharp was the man introduced in his place, and he duly levelled with what was nearly the last kick, tapping in after Lambert headed Fonte’s deep ball across goal.

Bristol City: Gerken, Foster, Fontaine, Nyatanga, Cunningham (Wilson 61), Adomah (Anderson 85), Morris (Edwards 81), Pearson, Bolasie (Woolford 61), Skuse, Stead (Taylor 73).

Subs: Heaton, Pitman, Wilson, Reid, Bryan, Amadi-Holloway.

Saints: K Davis, Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld (Seaborne 77), Fox (Richardson 46), Ward-Prowse (S Davis 46), Schneiderlin (Cork 46, Sharp 81), Lallana (Do Prado 61), Puncheon, Rodriguez, Lambert.

Subs: Gazzaniga, Chambers, Hammond, Chaplow, De Ridder.

Att: 2,605 (402 away).