Leeds So Grateful to Keep Theo Out

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Byline: PETER FERGUSON

THE most misleading scoreline of the season suggests that Kevin Blackwell's fortune is turning after luckless Saints battered promotion-chasing Leeds in embarrassing fashion at Elland Road.

Southampton were still scratching their heads in confusion as they headed for the M1, their run of eight consecutive draws at an abrupt end but certainly not in the manner their dominance merited.

Harry Redknapp's side, coming up against a side fourth in the Championship and brim-full of confidence, rode the double blow of falling 2-0 behind in 20 minutes.

Rob Hulse planted a majestic header beyond Antti Niemi's desperate attempt to save with 10 minutes gone. Robbie Blake, finally fully fit after his triathlon training, celebrated his return to form with a brilliant sweeping first-timer from Hulse's layoff.

But it was the signal for Southampton to fight back, and in teenage tyro Theo Walcott they had the man of the match and a constant threat to Leeds' oftenharassed back four, not to mention goalkeeper Neil Sullivan.

Walcott's full debut at 16 will stay long in the memory of the few hundred Saints fans present and will mean far more in the long run than Southampton's second League defeat in a season that still promises much. Walcott hauled Saints back into the game after 24 minutes when he hammered Djamel Belmadi's long ball past Sullivan, having been a tad too timid with an earlier chance.

Redknapp said: 'Theo was terrific, and he's not 17 until next year. He's come on a lot as a sub and it was time to give him a start.

He could have had a hat-trick instead of just the one, but he was making chances himself with his pace and skill.' Walcott gave Paul Butler and Sean Gregan as hard a time as they will have this season, leaving Leeds' former Newcastle coach John Carver to recall the raw Andy Cole as a young man about Toon. …