Championship - Saints crush Leeds on return

Sat, 06 Aug 19:22:00 2011

Southampton celebrated their return to the Championship with a crushing 3-1 victory over Leeds United at St Mary's.

Championship - Saints crush Leeds

Goals from captain Dean Hammond, the excellent Adam Lallana and veteran striker David Connolly gave the hosts a quite convincing victory against a poor Leeds side who were second best throughout.

Leeds got a late and undeserved consolation through a Max Gradel penalty deep into injury time - Aaron Martin was adjudged to have handled in the box, a harsh decision given by the linesman as the ball appeared to hit his chest.

The Whites may have been missing Luciano Becchio but Southampton made do without one of their star players - winger Alex Chamberlain, a target for Arsenal among others.

Simon Grayson’s side went from title hopefuls to play-off also-rans last season and they appeared to be stuck in their malaise from this weak performance; Saints, meanwhile, looked the business after two years in League One, as they defended and attacked with calm and precision.

A frantic start saw both sides go close, with Connolly kicking air after great interplay between Lallana and Guly, while for Leeds Jonathan Howson fired in a sharp volley that Kelvin Davis was able to parry.

The hosts took the lead on 10 minutes when a quickly-taken free-kick released Hammond, who was given the freedom of the Leeds half to move forward and line-up a quick, flat left-foot drive that flew past the flailing Andy Lonergan and into the bottom left.

Despite weak defending from Andy O’Brien, who stood off Hammond, it was a fine goal that laid a marker for Saints, back in the second tier after a few years away and eager to showcase their historic brand of attacking football.

And their endeavour paid off when, on 25 minutes, star man Lallana pinged a super low drive across Lonergan and in off the post, also with his left after cutting inside from the right.

The former England U21 midfielder, aged 23 and surely only a short step away from Premier League quality, almost got his second within a minute but was denied by a brave block from Lonergan, having been put through by the rangy but effective Brazilian midfielder Guly.

Leeds seemed shell-shocked and could only muster hopeful long balls and the odd corner won by a lively Gradel: their final ball was poor and, with Becchio out, they lacked an edge up front.

The Whites seemed to be going through the motions and almost went three down when Rickie Lambert hit the woodwork with a spectacular long-range free-kick.

It was half-time and Saints were welcomed into the tunnel by a buoyant home crowd; Leeds were gloomy by comparison.

The second half started well for the visitors though - Gradel and Ross McCormack were denied clear routes to goal by timely interventions from centre-halves Jose Fonte and Martin.

But six minutes into the half and it was the Saints who next drew blood and once again it was a lovely goal, a fine right-footed drive from the edge of the box by Connolly after a superb reverse pass from Lallana.

Leeds looked broken, but they should have pulled one back on the hour mark when substitute Billy Paynter sprung the offside trap but was unable to beat Davis, who kept out his low finish with a smart one-handed stop.

Saints heeded the warning and sat increasingly deeper, looking for the counter and bringing on highly-rated Belgian winger Steve de Ridder and Richard Chaplow in an attempt to pack the midfield and choke Leeds of space to create chances.

Indeed, the hosts showed their strength in depth by bringing on Morgan Schneiderlin later on, making all three substitutions without remotely missing the much-hyped Chamberlain.

Martin almost added a fourth, heading inches over from Lallana’s inch-perfect cross, while Leeds had the odd chance too, Ramon Nunez firing just wide after a mazy run.

Chaplow was denied a spectacular strike when his long-range half-volley crashed against the post as Saints looked the more likely to add to their tally.

The latter stages seemed more about keeping a clean sheet, which the hosts were denied when the linesman decided young defender Martin handled the ball when Adam Clayton flicked it around him: initial suspicions that it hit his chest were confirmed by the replay.

Gradel made no mistake from the spot, sending the keeper the wrong way, but it was too little far too late, the final act of a convincing performance by Nigel Adkins’s men.

Reda Maher - on Twitter @Reda_Maher / Eurosport

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