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Strachan Leeds bound?

The word from the Southampton press box on this rain drenched afternoon is that Gordon Strachan will be appointed as the new Leeds United manager some time next week.

And the local media on the south coast claim that the little Scot's failing relationship with Saints chairman Rupert Lowe may be the primary reason why he is so keen to walk into a fully blown crisis to take over at Elland Road.

Few can doubt that Strachan has done a fine job in his two years as Southampton manager, but the lack of backing in the transfer market is said to have inspired a breakdown in relations between the top two men at the club.

After taking Southampton to an FA Cup final last season, sealing a return to European football in the process, Strachan expected to be presented with a healthy summer war chest to take the club on to the next level and turn them into regular challengers in the top half of the Premiership. Instead, he was given a limited budget and his desire to get away has been simmering ever since.

He will doubtless suggest he has 'taken the club as far as possible' as he makes his exit and Lowe will be left to find a new boss once again, a position he was in when Glenn Hoddle made a similar exit a couple of years back. Then the questions will be asked about Southampton's ability to hang on to managers whose ambitions seem to be beyond their own, but Lowe is not the type to shy away from such media speculation and he faced the press once again after this narrow 1-0 defeat.

With Strachan refusing to answer questions on his future after the game, his chairman gave the press this defiant message: 'We have a manager who is under contract and until Leeds show their hand, there is nothing we can do about these rumours.

'Despite all the speculation and suggestions that we have agreed to allow Gordon to leave, I have still had no official approach from Leeds and it is getting very frustrating to have this problem hanging over the club. Rules are rules, but they are hard to enforce when a club are trying to poach your manager.

'Gordon is well loved at Southampton, prepared his team very well for this game and I can categorically deny the suggestion that he and I have had a fall out. Things are going well at Southampton, so why on earth would we have fallen out?'

With cries of 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' ringing around the stadium on this historic day for English sport, the Southampton players did their best to give Strachan something to think about if he is still undecided on a return to Elland Road. Playing with the spirit that all sides working under this manager exude, they matched Chelsea stride for stride early on.

In front of a record crowd at the St Mary's Stadium, a Chelsea starting line-up featuring Joe Cole and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink struggled to find its feet and it was Southampton who posed a more potent threat early on, with Kevin Phillips and Brett Ormerod going close in the opening half hour.

Without the injured James Beattie, Southampton's willingness to chase down every ball made it tough for Chelsea's star to shine, though the ever impressive Damien Duff did his best to change that after just six minutes. The little Dubliner can do things few others in the Premiership can think about and his crisp one two with Hasselbaink was finished off with a shot into the side netting.

The first half ambled along without too many major incidents, though Leandre Griffit's deflected effort five minutes before the break required the intervention of the Chelsea keeper as he tipped the ball wide of his post. However, the Italian keeper always looked comfortable.

The game could only get better and as the rain picked up its intensity, so did Chelsea, who again showed their capacity to transform a game with a move of pure quality two minutes into the second half. After Frank Lampard linked well with Hasselbaink, the ball eventually fell to onrushing full-back Mario Melchiot and once he brushed Chris Marsden aside, the Dutchman kept his cool to slot home the game's opening goal.

They should have finished off their opponents three minutes later as former Southampton star Wayne Bridge whipped in a vicious cross that Hasselbaink controlled on his chest, only to fire his shot over when it looked easier to score.

Hasselbaink missed another opportunity before Southampton wasted the chance to claim a point when Kevin Phillips failed to covert from close range five minutes from time and Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri was relieved as he faced the press. 'I suffered so much in that final 20 minutes because we gave Southampton the chance to take a point,' he said.

'We had the chances to finish off the game, but when you keep missing, there is always a chance your opponent can hurt you. Southampton worked very hard, so this is a very good victory for us.'

Rupert Lowe's press briefing also included a few digs at Leeds, suggesting their rock bottom position in the league and financial plight made them a bad bet for any prospective manager. Painfully, he may find out the job at Elland Road is more attractive than the one he has on offer at Southampton in the next few days.