The game was two minutes into stoppage time when Michael Bridges struck a sublime volley to allow the men who had come in from the cold of the postponed game against Spartak Moscow a chance to bask two points clear at the top of the Premiership. It was a case of never mind the quality, feel the win.
Southampton had two efforts cleared off the line and were mightily aggrieved by the performance of the referee, Rob Harris, who sent off Patrick Colleter for a second bookable foul in the 89th minute. That, and the lateness of Leeds' winner, weighed heavily on the visitors and at the end Hassan Kachloul had to be held back by team-mates to prevent a confrontation with Lee Bowyer.
"My lads didn't deserve that today," Dave Jones, the Southampton manager, said. "I can't say a lot about the officials but if the assessor marks him anything better than minus 10 there's something wrong with the game. For me, to lose my temper on the touchline it takes an awful lot, but I did today."
The ending and the bitterness of Jones' reaction was a surprising climax to an afternoon that had begun as if Leeds would accomplish a comfortable victory. Yesterday's game was the first of seven in 21 days in four competitions but they began looking anything but a side with too much on their minds.
It seemed merely a matter of time when they would take the lead as Harry Kewell, Bridges and David Batty peppered Paul Jones' goal in the opening 10 minutes, and the Southampton goalkeeper flung himself to the right to deny Kewell soon afterwards.
Southampton looked destined for a thorough going over but as their goal lived a charmed existence they gained in confidence and the balance of power changed as if someone had thrown a switch. Suddenly the Saints took flight and Leeds were fortunate to emerge unscathed when Kachloul's header was cleared off the line by Kewell after 34 minutes.
Nigel Martyn had to thank his defence again in the 64th minute when Ian Harte's clearance rebounded off Kachloul and fell to Marian Pahars. The Leeds goalkeeper smothered his effort but the ball bounced to Matthew Oakley, who attempted to pass into the net only to find Jonathon Woodgate on the line.
That proved to be the apex of Southampton's performance and Leeds poured forward even if their play was untidy. Darren Huckerby squandered a chance with a wild shot after 79 minutes and the game seemed destined for a draw until Colleter, previously booked for a foul on Bowyer, flicked a hand at Bridges and was sent off.
Only two minutes remained, Southampton still looked likely to hold out but when Dean Richards and Stephen McPhail tussled at a free-kick the rebound fell to Bridges. The bounce was high, his time and space was negligible but he lashed his shot into the top corner. "Three points, that's the important thing," David O'Leary, the Leeds manager, said. "Not many teams come back from Europe and play wonderfully."
Goal: Bridges (90) 1-0.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Kelly, Mills, Woodgate, Harte; Bowyer, Batty (Bakke, 30), McPhail, Kewell; Smith (Huckerby, 62), Bridges. Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), Haaland, Hiden.
Southampton (4-5-1): Jones; Tessem, Lundekvam, Richards, Colleter; Ripley, Soltvedt, Hughes (Beattie, 76), Oakley, Kachloul; Pahars (Dodd, 88). Substitutes not used: Le Tissier, Boa Morte, Moss (gk).
Bookings: Leeds Bakke, Bowyer. Southampton Kachloul, Pahars, Colleter, Hughes. Sending off: Colleter.
Referee: R Harris (Oxford).
Man of the match: Richards.
Attendance: 39,288.Reuse content