In an energetic end-to-end clash on the South Coast, there was one moment of almost total silence at the Amex Stadium. Of course, it came 37 minutes in when Tino Livramento went down untouched and immediately called for the stretcher.

The 19-year-old was wheeled out of the ground holding a pair of crutches and was set to undergo a scan on Monday to determine the severity of the injury.

But even without seeing the results of the tests on his knee, it’s impossible not to be afraid of what could be after seeing the reactions of those near the incident.

Perhaps none were as striking as Nathan Tella who walked away from the scene with his head held in his hands before looking up at the sky. Tella’s emotional reaction was no doubt fueled by concern for his teammate in agony but it likely hit him harder as someone who knows all about the fragile nature of a career in football.

After appearing in 13 of Saints’ final 15 games of the 2020/21 Premier League season, the stage seemed set for Tella to fully break out this campaign. Just one start in Saints’ first 12 matches put that emergence on the back-burner but after eventually breaking into Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side in late November, only Covid could keep Tella away from the starting XI.

That was until Saints travelled to Molineux in mid January. The 3-1 defeat was no doubt a major disappointment to all but for Tella it was far worse. Taken off after 71 minutes with a seemingly minor injury, it took more than three months for the 22-year old to get his next league start.

“It was meant to be a couple of days, maybe a week,” Tella said recently. "I had a tear in my hip and for some reason, blood kept getting into the tear and it just wasn't healing.

“I wasn't able to sprint to my full pace, so it was quite painful and a 10-day injury turned into a six-week, seven-week injury, which wasn't ideal.

"But I think it was probably better for me to come back when I did rather than rush it and end up out again for even longer. Everything is back to a similar level now and it is just about playing games and trying to get involved in the team."

Daily Echo: Nathan Tella and Nathan Redmond celebrate against Swansea in January. Image by: PANathan Tella and Nathan Redmond celebrate against Swansea in January. Image by: PA

But after an injury that snowballed into something far more serious, Tella was finally back on the teamsheet for the trip to Brighton. 

Once again he played a bit more than an hour but this was a very different outing to his last start. As opposed to the end of a run, this felt like the start of a new one.

It took until the 8th minute for Tella to record his first touch of the ball and in total he managed just 30 touches - the least of any Saints player who played 45 minutes or more.

But what he did with the ball offered his side a whole new dimension to their game and played a major role in helping them recover from 2-0 down to earn a fighting point.

In the 53nd minute, Tella received the ball from Jan Bednarek inside his own half. With his first touch he lets it run across his body before exploding up the pitch…

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He immediately drives forward with the ball and as he goes the Brighton defenders in front of him start to back-track towards their own goal…

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Tella eventually ends up inside the Brighton box with the same three Seagulls players watching him closely.

In turn, that opens up a huge amount of space on the edge of the box for the incoming Oriol Romeu...

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Tella opts to shoot and his effort his blocked.

But deja-vu struck just one minute and 14 seconds later when Romeu won the ball back and played it forward to Tella who once again exploded towards the Brighton box…

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Tella’s immediate and incisive burst grabs the attention of all the Brighton players near him and as in the previous example, it leaves acres of space on the edge of the box for Romeu to run into…

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On this occasion, Tella does use the Spaniard, laying it off to Romeu whose back-heel is clinically converted by Ward-Prowse for his stunning second.

But even the captain’s shot - brilliantly arrowed into the bottom corner - was only made possible by the space Tella created with his initial run…

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Despite playing just 66 minutes, Tella attempted eight dribbles on Sunday - double that of the players with the next-most - Kyle Walker-Peters and Alexis Mac Allister each managing four.

Explaining the decision to start Tella, Ralph Hasenhuttl said: “I expected exactly what he delivered. With his deep runs, with his speed, nasty attacking – he is very quick, and he’s normally the guy that gets the most sprints in our game, and that causes everybody problems.”

Those qualities were evident in the moments just before and leading up to Ward-Prowse’s second strike as Tella carried the ball from deep into Brighton’s box, taking Seagulls players with him as he utilised his “nasty attacking”.

Even when he’s not fully successful, Tella’s role on the ball occupies defenders and gives them something they simply must focus on, thereby opening up space for others.

Here’s one example of that from the first half when Tella receives the ball in the 9th minute.

As he carries it forward, he immediately grabs the attention of the five Brighton players in his vicinity who place all their focus on the youngster and leave Walker-Peters totally free out wide… 

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While Tella’s immense talent and bravery on the ball no doubt catches the eye above all else and helped set up Saints’ equaliser, it was his role in their first goal that may yield even more excitement.

With time ticking on a thoroughly underwhelming first half, Nathan Redmond launches the ball forward with only one player even remotely in position to chase: Nathan Tella.

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Not only does he refuse to give up on the speculative lob, but he actually wins it ahead of both Marc Cucurella and Lewis Dunk despite seemingly having no chance…

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He then drives towards the box before cutting back and Cucurella can’t do anything but trip him up…

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We all know what came next…

Quite simply, Saints don’t get back into this game without Tella - without his dribbling on the ball and without his ridiculous enthusiasm. It was this second trait - or rather personality - that gave Saints the spark to get back into the game at a time when the entire team was wilting.

Speaking about the goal, Hasenhuttl said: “It changed the atmosphere and the reaction in the dressing room. We were still alive in the second half.”

Tella plays with the kind of joy and hunger that every single fan wants to see from the players representing them on the pitch. It makes him a whole lot of fun to watch and against Brighton it helped him play the crucial role he did in lifting Saints from their knees.

By his own admission, this has not been the easiest season for the Saints academy graduate.

“I’d say it’s been quite frustrating but it’s probably the year where I’ve learnt the most about myself,” he said in April.


“At the start of the season I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to, I was only seemingly playing in the cup and that was quite challenging when obviously all I wanted to do was play football.

“Picking up the injuries was another setback in the season which wasn’t ideal, but now I’m back I’m hoping that I can have a better end to the season – it seems to have been up and down, a bit like a rollercoaster. So hopefully I can end on a high.

“Personally it was obviously a bit disheartening because I wanted to be involved, I wanted to have the same emotions as the team and as the fans in the stadium, but that’s football – it’s part of the game, you’re going to pick up injuries.”

This hasn’t been the season Nathan Tella wanted or expected. This was supposed to be his breakout year and instead it’s been one of difficult learning experiences. But on Sunday at Brighton, he showed just why Southampton handed him a new three-and-a-half year contract in January.

This may not be Nathan Tella’s season. But there’s reason to believe the next one will be.

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