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May the 4th not with us as we finish the regular season with a tepid defeat
Sunday, 5th May 2024 13:15 by Tim Whelan

If we were ever going to have a final day miracle we needed a much better performance than this final day showing against Southampton, so now we have to endure the agony of the play-offs yet again.

It had a bit of a strange feeling in the build-up to this game. In theory we could finish the day as a Premier League game, but I had zero expectation of Huddersfield beating Ipswich at Portman Road, so I couldn’t get myself worked up into thinking that this was a vital promotion decider. But I did expect that the Leeds team would give it their all, just in case a miracle happened in Suffolk.

Bamford was still unfit, so Piroe was again leading the line, and the only change to the starting eleven saw Kamara coming in for Gray. And Kamara looked quite lively in the opening stages as we drove forward with the look of a team who wanted to put last week’s diabolical performance behind us. A couple of early moves broke down as Summerville and Rutter lost their footing at the wrong moment, so it was left to Junior Firpo to go closest to scoring in the opening stages.

His only goal for us was against the Saints last season, and this time he sent in a dangerous inswinging free kick from a narrow angle on the right. It might have been dipping under the crossbar, but it was too close to McCarthy and the keeper was able to tip the ball over the bar. At the other end Southampton’s breaks downfield were starting to look menacing, and our slack defending allowed the visitors to take the lead in the 18th minute.

From a corner we had two attempts to clear the ball upfield, but it still came back to Adams on the left hand side of the area. He pulled the ball back for Armstrong, while three defenders had been drawn towards the six-yard line and nobody took responsibility for tracking his run. The striker took advantage of the space he’d been given, and fired in a shot that Meslier was unable to keep out.

At least we responded well to going behind. First Gnonto cut in from the by-line and sent in a right foot shot, but McCarthy was able to keep it out with his legs. Then in the 21st minute Gnonto’s cross went straight to Harwood-Belli, but the defender, but he miscontrolled the ball and sent it straight to Piroe on the edge of the area. The Dutchman took a touch to steady himself, and then struck a powerful shot into the net which left McCarthy with no chance.

But soon afterwards the Southampton fans gleefully informed us that it was now“1-0 to the Tractor Boys”, and while we were having more of the play, our defending was about to make our task even harder. First an inswinging corner was headed goalwards by Adams while Meslier flapped around, but just when I thought he’d scored Firpo cleared the ball off the line and it was scrambled away.

And ten minutes before half-time the Saints went back in front. A long ball down the right seemed to be going out of play, but while Firpo jogged back Walker-Peters didn’t give up chasing it and caught up with the ball just before it crossed the line. I thought it had gone out and so did Firpo, but as he stopped to appeal to the linesman Walker-Peters took the ball round him, and Smallbone got to his cross to score from close range.

The sluggish reaction of our defenders in the centre suggested they were also expecting a goal-kick, but you’ve got to play to the whistle, and from looking at the TV replay today I’m less convinced than I was at the time that the ball had gone out of play. We could have equalised again when Gnonto shot wide, though Harwood-Bellis was close to extending their lead when he clipped the crossbar.

We might have expected the interval team talk to gee them up a bit, but the second half was pretty much a non-event. Perhaps they heard the news of a second Ipswich goal early in the half, which finally convinced them it was time to give up and go through the motions, much as we needed a good performance here to lift our spirits for the play-offs.

In the week Farke had said that Rutter was starting to look a bit sharper in training and getting back to his pre-operation old self, but although he’d shown a few good touches early on, he was fading and starting to lose possession more often than not. He was one of three players replaced just after the hour mark, but none of the five subs we made in total had any affect on the way the game went.

Once again we were relying on Summerville for any spark of inspiration, but he was getting little support, so the Saints defenders were able to pinpoint him as the main threat and double up on him whenever he got the ball. And when he did manage to cut inside past two defenders, McCarthy was able to make a fairly comfortable save.

The man to my right was complaining about the constant passing around at the back, correctly pointing out that “you’re not going to score from there”. And I noticed my mate to the left checking his Antiques website on his phone, which is a certain sign that the play is a bit on the dull side.

Thousands of fans were streaming out well before the referee put us out of our misery with the final whistle. An army of stewards rushed to link hands to make sure that nobody ran on the pitch, but if anyone had been planning such an invasion the performance they’d just seen had obviously sucked the energy from their legs.

But those of us who were still inside Elland Road did at least raise the enthusiasm to applaud the team on their lap of honour. It was a magnificent achievement to get to 90 points after a difficult start to the season, it’s just that it’s a shame that so few of them came in the final six weeks.

As we came out a few fans were chanting about being off to Wembley, which seems a little premature when we have a play-off semi-final to get through. Though not according to a text from my mate who supports Norwich, who says their form is so bad that we’ve more or less got a bye to the final!

Let’s hope he’s right, although on our current form I’m finding it hard to back us to beat anyone.


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