A LAST minute Max Gradel penalty was scant consolation for Leeds United as they made a losing start to the new season in the Championship at Southampton.
After a 3-1 defeat to the buoyant Saints, who have just come up from League One, it is already looking like being a long, hard season for the Whites.
With problems at both ends of the pitch highlighted it left manager Simon Grayson explaining the lack of investment in the summer.
He has brought in a new goalkeeper in Andy Lonergan and a new left-back in Darren O’Dea, but the defensive problems of last season spilled over straight away into the new one as they made it all too easy for their opponents to score three times.
Southampton were ahead from the tenth minute when Dean Hammond made space in midfield and was given all the time he needed to pass the ball into the net from just outside the box.
Awful defending from centre-backs Patrick Kisnorbo and Andy O’Brien then allowed Adam Lallana to make it two on 25 minutes and only a block from point bank range by Lonergan denied Lallana a second a minute later.
Ricky Lambert went close with a well struck free-kick and Leeds were grateful to be only 2-0 down at the break with their only shot on goal being an early Jonny Howson volley that was saved by home keeper Kelvin Davis.
Saints did make it 3-0 seven minutes into the second half when David Connolly this time was given too much space to place his shot into the net.
Billy Paynter, on as sub for disappointing debutant Michael Brown, was denied by Davis when put clean through by Adam Clayton as Leeds looked to restore some pride and there was some improvement as Gradel and another sub, Ramon Nunez, went close with long range strikes.
The hosts came closer when Richard Chaplow was denied by Lonergan’s fingertips and the woodwork, but they were content to see out the remainder and looked comfortable.
Leeds were denied two good shouts for penalties when Gradel was clipped and Paynter held down, but in the fourth minute of injury time they were awarded a spot kick, wrongly, for a handball against Aaron Martin that did not look deliberate. Gradel stepped up to score, but it was too little too late and a big improvement is needed on this display if United are to even get close to finishing in the top half this season.
Manager Grayson could not hide his disappointment.
He said: “It was a shock to the system considering how well we played six days before against Newcastle, when we had energy, passion, desire. We had none of that.
“Too many players went out to do their own thing and not what we told them and that’s where we’ve come unstuck.
“There has been nothing wrong in training, we knew Southampton would pass through midfield and people didn’t do what we asked them to do.
“That’s extremely disappointing and if they don’t do it, the team will suffer. Southampton looked far better than us.”
(Hamond 10, Lallana 25, Connolly 52)
Leeds United 1
(Gradel 90, pen)
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Southampton: Davis, Richardson, Fonte, Martin, Harding, Guly (Chaplow 64)), Cork, Hammond (Schneiderlin), Lallana, Connolly (De Ridder), Lambert.
Leeds: Lonergan, Connolly, Kisnorbo, O’Brien, O’Dea, Snodgrass (Sam), Clayton, Brown (Paynter), Howson, Gradel, McCormack (Nunez).
Referee: Kevin Wright.