WILL Smallbone made a long-awaited return to first-team action for Saints after ten months out with an ACL injury at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old midfielder was hasn’t featured since his serious injury whilst playing against Leicester back in January, but has played twice for David Horseman’s B team this month.

He put in a good showing and looked dangerous on the ball, almost completing a dream comeback with the winner but for a strong save by Blues shot-stopper Kepa – with the scores finishing level at 1-1.

However, in a disappointing end for the youngster, he watched on as he blasted his penalty over the bar after Theo Walcott had already seen one saved, cancelling out Fraser Forster’s stop on Mason Mount.

Although Oriol Romeu then scored his next for Saints, it allowed Reece James to finish the 10th penalty of the shootout and send Chelsea into the final eight teams of the EFL Cup.

Daily Echo: It was Saints' second consecutive penalty shootout in the 2021-22 EFL Cup (Pic: PA)It was Saints' second consecutive penalty shootout in the 2021-22 EFL Cup (Pic: PA)

Having graduated from Saints’ academy, Basingstoke-born Smallbone is a Saint through and through and such a gutting end to his heavily anticipated return was a body-blow for the youngster – who has been injured for over 300 days since making his first-team debut in the 2019-20 season.

The Republic of Ireland under-21 international posted a heartfelt message on his Twitter account: 

No need for an apology, Will. Welcome back.