In what was always going to be a tough assignment away at a Liverpool side which went unbeaten in their qualification group, the visitors had to weather a storm, but were well in the contest during the goalless opening 45 minutes.
There were good chances for Southampton with Lee Barnard’s eighth minute effort blocked by a Reds defender, whilst winger Jake Sinclair hit a volley inside the area from a Lloyd Isgrove corner narrowly over the top of Peter Gulacsi’s goal.
The hosts piled the pressure on in the second 45 and despite some resolute defending, from Saints, the breakthrough goal arrived on the hour mark when Dani Pacheco’s run and low shot was diverted in past Cody Cropper by the unfortunate Jordan Turnbull inside the six yard box.
Liverpool went on to hit the post with a floated free-kick that went all the way through the area and almost caught Cropper out, but it was Hunter’s side, who finished the contest strongly.
Alberto Seidi replaced the lively Lloyd Isgrove, and the Portuguese forward went close to levelling the scores up on the stroke of 90 minutes with a fierce effort from distance which flew just wide of the left post.
Jack Stephens and Barnard each had opportunities deep into added on time, but neither could yield a goal to prevent a defeat in the campaign’s opening fixture.
“In terms of what we’ve tried to do I thought we stuck at it well,” Hunter said after the game.
“Defensively we were excellent both individually and collectively, but it was a difficult game against a side filled with international players.
“That said, their three good chances came from our poor play, and they scored on the hour from an own goal.”
Despite that pressure, Saints stayed in the game and produced a late surge which was almost rewarded with an equaliser, as the visitors showed that their capabilities at the top level.
“I was pleased with our overall work-rate,” Hunter said. “The game plan that we had prepared the players stuck at with good endeavour, and we just need to improve on the hardest thing which is our decision making in the final third.
“Jack Stephens had his best game in terms of defending, and young Matty Targett continues to impress.
“Yes, we did have chances late on, but we now know the standard that we’re up against. We’ve got some exciting games to look forward to, starting with Arsenal on Sunday.”
Saints U21s: Cropper, Young, Stephens, Turnbull, Targett, Sinclair, Chambers, Moore, Curtis, Isgrove (Seidi 83), Barnard. Subs (not used): Johns, McCarthy, Seager, Gape.