THE sight of Theo Walcott in full flow was the perfect tonic for those Saints fans brave enough to revisit the scene of Saturday's nightmare.

It was the mesmerising pace and movement of 16-year-old Walcott that created both Southampton goals in last night's FA Youth Cup final first leg - and it sent the 9,902 crowd home in far better heart than was the case after the first team's capitulation just two days earlier.

The benefits of a successful academy had been there for all to see as Saints folded against Aston Villa as it was midfielder Steven Davis, an FA Youth Cup winner in 2002, who scored the winning goal.

But while Saints' Premiership future looks decidedly uncertain, at least the club's starlets showed that the long-term future can be a positive and exciting one.

Many would have left St Mary's last night wondering how many of this team, like Villa's Davis, will go on to play Premiership football.

Winger Walcott will surely be one. The Newbury schoolboy was the subject of interest from Chelsea and Real Madrid before he committed his long-term future to Saints last month.

He sits his GCSEs in a few weeks' time, but he saved his best performance of this FA Youth Cup run for the Sky Sports cameras.

He was the major threat in the opening exchanges and found the top corner in the 25th minute after a brilliant 20-yard run from Leon Best - only to be denied by the offside flag.

In the 36th-minute it was a point blank block from Ipswich Town goalkeeper Shane Supple that stopped the right winger from registering his 14th academy goal of the season.

But in first half injury time Walcott switched to the left flank - and immediately won the penalty which gave Saints the lead.

David McGoldrick's through ball sent Walcott scampering down the inside left channel, where he was hauled down by Aidan Collins, a defender with first team experience, after entering the penalty area.

McGoldrick, the scorer of the decisive spot kick in the semi-final shoot-out win in at Molineux, sent Supple the wrong way.

Ipswich lined up with a five-man midfield in the absence of top scorer Billy Clarke, a Republic of Ireland under-19 teammate of Saints striker Best who will also miss the second leg after suffering a knee injury during the Tractor Boys' semi-final win against Spurs.

But Ipswich still contributed to an absorbing contest and were unfortunate not to take the lead midway through the first half when Darryl Knights played a slick one-two with Liam Trotter, only for Andrew McNeil to save at the lone striker's feet.

That was just one warning of Town's threat and the equaliser came in the 48th-minute when midfielder Cathal Lordan lashed a 25-yard drive into the far corner of McNeil's goal.

There was little Saints' Scotland under-18 international could have done as his defence failed to close down the Irishman. But Walcott continued to inspire, curling a beautiful cross just beyond Nathan Dyer before being crowded out by the Ipswich defence after being sent clear by Lloyd James.

Then, in the 59th-minute, Lordan struck for the second time. The excellent Knights escaped the attentions of Sean Rudd and his cross from the left was arrowed past McNeil by Lordan, who had only scored two academy goals all season before last night's brace.

There were echoes of the first team's disastrous second half two days earlier - for all of three minutes.

As he had done with two minutes left of extra-time at Wolves, Best responded with a goal when it mattered most after McGoldrick's through ball and Walcott's intelligent movement had created the opening.

Walcott timed his run to perfection but, after he lost control, the ball bounced off Supple to Best, who found the far corner from 20 yards despite the presence of defender Chris Casement on the Ipswich goalline.

The 62nd-minute equaliser leaves the tie all square for Friday's second leg. But Walcott, who had been double marked in the previous rounds, could have netted a dramatic late winner. He relished the extra space given him last night and his movement was nearly rewarded with a chance in injury time, when he just failed to latch on to Tim Sparv's through ball in the penalty area.

Both Joe Royle, the Ipswich manager, and Harry Redknapp were at St Mary's last night and you can be sure that those Premiership managers not present were tuned into Sky Sports 1.

So too was Georges Prost, the Saints under-18s coach, who deserves to see his pups lift the FA Youth Cup after being diagnosed with cancer.

Goalscorer McGoldrick said: "We've got to go to Ipswich as if it's 0-0 and play our normal game. They passed the ball a lot more than us, and we knew they would come at us but at our best we can beat anyone. If we battle as hard as we can we should come out winners."

Saints: McNeil, Richards, Cranie, Rudd, Wallis-Tayler, Walcott, Sparv, James, Dyer, McGoldrick, Best (Condesso 83).

Subs not used: Bale, Jones, Dutton-Black, Lallana.

Ipswich: Supple, Synott (Haynes 63), Casement, Collins, Krause, Moore, Garvan, Lordan, Trotter (Sheringham 90), Craig, Knights (Hammond 85).

Subs not used: Reynolds, Ainsley.

Booked: Garvan

Referee: Mr A Marriner