LEON BEST will struggle to score a more important goal at youth level than his late, late equaliser at Molineux last night.

Saints were 3-1 behind on the night and trailing by one goal on aggregate when Best pounced in the six-yard box for his fifth goal in sixth FA Youth Cup appearances - with just TWO minutes left of extra time.

It was the lifeline Saints desperately needed, and shortly afterwards Best typified the spirit of this Southampton side when he scored the first of the team's five converted penalties, before falling to the ground with cramp.

Substitute Adam Lallana and midfielders Lloyd James and Tim Sparv all scored with accomplished spot-kicks that had been practised earlier in the day at Aston Villa's training ground.

Then David McGoldrick found himself in the position to score the winner, thanks to Andrew McNeil's save from Wolves' Jordan Fitzpatrick, who had forced extra-time with a brilliant 84th minute goal soon after coming on as a substitute.

McGoldrick's penalty helped to erase the memory of last year's exit from youth football's most prestigious competition, when Saints gave away a 2-0 lead at Tranmere, and lost on spot-kicks after finishing 3-3 after extra time.

But it was a happy ending this time, although there were many twists between McGoldrick's ninth-minute opener and his shoot-out winner two hours later.

When the Saints number ten seized on a mistake by Martin Riley, one of four players with professional contracts in the Wolves side, and slid the ball past the advancing Wayne Hennessey, a comfortable passage to the final looked likely.

The kick off had been delayed by ten minutes because of crowd congestion but the partisan 8,803 following was silenced by McGoldrick's first FA Youth Cup goal and the bewitching movement and pace of the Saints attack.

Theo Walcott gave a glimpse of his potential with a thrilling run that began midway inside the Saints half, where the 16-year-old controlled a high ball and turned his marker before flying up the wing.

The Wolves faithful resorted to taunts of 'You're Going Down With the Albion' as Saints strolled through the rest of the first half in first gear.

It was a familiar story at the beginning of the second.

Nathan Dyer forced Hennessey into a smart save from ten yards and Craig Richards had a deft headed goal from a James free-kick disallowed for offside. Then, in the 64th minute, the game swung in the home side's favour.

Striker Thomas Stewart ran across the face of the area and found the bottom corner of McNeil's goal with a left-footed drive from 20 yards.

And with six minutes left Fitzpatrick stunned the favourites by curling Wolves' second into the top right corner from long range to level the aggregate score at 2-2 and force extra time.

It was the least that Wolves deserved after dominating the second half, despite the threat of Saints' pace on the counter attack.

It was to get worse for Saints, who conceded three goals in a match for the first time this season when captain Mark Davies sent Molineux into raptures in the second period of extra time.

Wolves were reduced to ten men in the 110th minute, when a foul on Sparv earned Stephen Gleeson a second yellow card.

But the Irishman was barely down the tunnel when Davies swept Wolves into a 3-2 aggregate lead from eight yards, after Riley had headed a Fitzpatrick corner back across goal.

Kyle Critchell's night was to end in agony and a trip to Wolverhampton General Hospital with a suspected broken ankle that will rule him out of next week's two legged final against Ipswich.

But he showed his guts by being the first to respond when Saints found themselves behind.

His run from left-back ended with a cross cut out by Henessey at the near post. Then Richards provided the header that led to the defensive mistake that allowed Best to poke home from close range.

Best could even have won it for Saints in the last minute of extra time, but was denied by Hennessey's acrobatics, and substitute Feliciano Condesso just failed to head home the resulting corner from James.

Wolves: Hennessey, Little, Riley, Taylor, Rafferty, Musson, Davies, Gleeson, Collins, Cornes (Bennett 45), Stewart (Fitzpatrick 78)

Unused Subs: Shepherd, Ferran, Hughes.

Booked: Collins. Gleeson

Sent off: Gleeson (109)

Saints: McNeil, Richards, Cranie, Rudd (Condesso 115), Critchell (Wallis-Tayler 115), Walcott (Lallana 83), James, Sparv, Dyer, McGoldrick, Best.

Unused subs: Jones, Dutton-Black

Booked: Cranie, Rudd, Critchell.