Neil Warnock has a deserved reputation for his ability to engineer promotion campaigns but his hopes of a late push for the play-offs from his new club, Leeds, took a dent with this defeat by the league leaders.
In his first game in the Elland Road dugout, Warnock saw a Leeds performance which had everything but the goal. The clinical touch came from Rickie Lambert, the Championship's top scorer, whose 16th-minute strike secured a fourth win in five for Southampton, taking them four points clear of West Ham United, albeit from two extra games. Defeat was harsh on 10th-placed Leeds, despite, in Warnock's words, having "dominated the best side in the League for 89 minutes".
They found Southampton the goalkeeper Kelvin Davis in form, the35-year-old making a string of fine saves as Warnock suffered his first defeat since replacing Simon Grayson. "He has had an outstanding night, he has had to make saves and has done that," Nigel Adkins, the Southampton manager, said.
Having resisted an early onslaught, when they were lucky not to concede a penalty for Jose Fonte's handling of a Robert Snodgrass shot, Southampton caught their hosts cold with their first attack. Jack Cork crossed from the right and Tadanari Lee nodded the ball to the feet of Lambert who volleyed emphatically home from 10 yards. With it he became the first Southampton player since Mick Channon to reach the 20-goal mark in the League three seasons running. "Pure quality" was Adkins' verdict, though for Warnock it underlined why he has been trying to add defensive reinforcements to his squad. "We got punished for one little bit of sloppiness," he said.
Leeds' heads did not drop, though, and Ross McCormack and Luciano Becchio both threatened before Aidan White failed to connect with Snodgrass's cross-shot.
Warnock had called for a 30,000 turn-out knowing the significance of this to Leeds' play-off prospects. As it was 20,901 turned up for a match live on Sky, yet their noisy support belied the backdrop of bickering between the chairman, Ken Bates, and his critics among the Leeds fans. Bates' programme notes included another swipe at the Leeds United Supporters Trust, despite the group having called off a protest march planned for yesterday. The trust revealed on Friday that it had contacted Ofcom about Bates' comments about its board members on Yorkshire Radio; it also claimed that the club had blocked eight members' attempts to buy tickets for Tuesday's trip to Hull.
After scrambling to deny Becchio in the six-yard box, Davis twice foiled substitute Danny Webber, Warnock's newly signed striker, who then clipped another effort wide. "You'll never create as many chances as that. The keeper could have won five man of the match awards but our finishing could be better," said Warnock. Snodgrass and Darren O'Dea both headed against the bar in a frantic finale.
Leeds (4-4-1-1): Lonergan; Bromby (Connolly 24), Lees, O'Dea, Pugh; White (Webber 56), Clayton, Brown (Sam 73), Snodgrass; McCormack; Becchio.
Southampton (4-4-2): Davis; Richardson, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox (Harding 55); Chaplow, Cork, Schneiderlin, Puncheon; Lee (Do Prado 46), Lambert.
Referee Nigel Miller.
Man of the match Kelvin Davis (Southampton).
Match rating 7/10.