Leeds United 2 Southampton 1

Hulse the catalyst as Leeds give Blackwell a boost

The night could hardly have started better for the Leeds manager. First came public reassurance from his chairman, Ken Bates, that reports linking Dennis Wise with his job could be stuffed in roughly the place suggested graphically by Leeds fans in their support for the present incumbent.

Then came two goals in the first 19 minutes of a vibrant first half which also witnessed the first starting appearance and senior goal by 16-year-old Theo Walcott, the South-ampton striker, whose progress is being followed by both Arsenal and Tottenham.

In his programme notes, Bates dismissed the notion that Wise might replace Blackwell - despite the brilliant rebuilding job he has performed at Leeds - as "a deliberate piece of mischief-making designed to unsettle the players.'' Wise, who became close to Bates while the pair were player and chairman respectively at Chelsea, happens to be a Southampton player currently, although injury ruled him out last night.

Blackwell's Leeds are evidently thriving under his stewardship, and further proof of their well-being quickly came here, top scorer Rob Hulse recording his eighth of the season with a looping long-range header from Frazer Richardson's 11th-minute cross, then supplying the lay-off from which Robbie Blake, with a ripping drive from just inside the box, doubled the lead.

Southampton, seeking to avoid a league record ninth consecutive draw, looked well on course to do so, but Walcott, whose startling pace had already given him one chance to get on the score sheet, made his mark only six minutes later, pouncing after Paul Butler had failed to clear a long ball from Djamel Belmadi and unleashing a fierce shot that goalkeeper Neil Sullivan could not keep out of the net.

Walcott certainly looks a prospect. Before half-time, with a shot that skimmed the bar, and early in the second period, with a confident chip, he went close to scoring again, although he could not keep his follow-up strike down after Sullivan had beaten away a shot by the substitute Kenwyne Jones.

Leeds, though forced to defend for longer spells than in the first half, might have made the game safe, however. Blake hit an upright with a free-kick and Butler narrowly missed with a powerful header.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Sullivan; Kelly, Butler, Gregan (Kilgallon, 56), Harding; Richardson (Einarsson, 75), Derry, Douglas, Lewis; Hulse, Blake (Healy, 65). Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Moore.

Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi; Hajto (Delap, 83), Lundekvam, Cranie, Higginbotham; Belmadi (Kosowski, 68), Oakley, Quashie, McCann; Walcott, Fuller (Jones, 75). Substitutes not used: Ormerod, Smith (gk).

Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).