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Play-off jinx continues as Leeds lose to Southampton again
Monday, 27th May 2024 11:18 by Tim Whelan

****ing Southampton. Again. ****ing Adam Armstrong. Again. ****ing Play-offs. Again. Grrrrrr.

So here we were, back in the position we’d hoped to be in three weeks ago, with a win over Southampton being enough to take us back to the Premier League at the first attempt. The pre-match mood among the Leeds fans was excellent, more through hope than previous experience, and I got to my seat to find another free scarf to twirl around. Well,it worked in the semi-final.

When a massive downpour erupted just as the pre-match presentation began I thought it was a sign that Richi Sunak had arrived, but apparently Southampton’s most famous fan had decided he had more important things to do. Which is a shame, when this was likely to be the only thing he wins all summer.

Daniel Farke named an unchanged line-up, partly due to Bamford’s failure to recover from his latest knee problem. Which would have been handy if it had gone to a penalty shootout, but it also meant that Piroe would have to lead the line in the way that he finally managed to do against Norwich. Sadly, this would be another game when Bamford’s critics would have to acknowledge that our forward line functions a lot better when he’s in it.

The team looked well up for it at the start, and the best opening that our early pressure produced came when Gnonto cut in from the right to shoot left-footed, but he rather scuffed it, and McCarthy had plenty of time to get down and gather the ball. But once again Southampton were starting to look dangerous on the break, and our central defensive pair had to be alert to block shots from Smallbone and Armstrong.

On 15 minutes they produced the best chance of the game so far with Smallbone’s free kick over the wall, which Meslier got across save. It was well struck, but placed to close to our keeper, and thankfully he didn’t aim for the opposite corner. But it wasn’t long before Southampton scored what turned out to be the only goal of the game.

Smallbone’s flick found Armstrong in space, with neither Ampadu or Rodon closing him down, and the Southampton man took one touch before drilling the ball across Meslier and inside the far post. Watching it back on the highlights I’ve now noticed that Meslier got a slight touch with his foot, but not enough to divert the ball past the post.

With VAR being in use for this final I held my breath and hoped that the goal would be ruled out, but it seems that Archie had been playing Armstrong onside. Soon afterwards we had the opportunity to hit straight back when the ball came out to Archie from a corner, and I was screaming for him to play the ball left where two players were racing clear, but he miss-hit his forward ball and McCarthy came out to collect.

For all our efforts, the Saints had the better of the chances in the rest of the first half. The Smallbone/Armstrong combination almost worked again, but this time Armstrong was shooting from a narrower angle and Meslier got down to make the save, before Ampadu booted the ball away.

It was notable that we came out at least a minute after Southampton for the second half, presumably after a stern talking to from Farke. If he’d given any instructions for a tactical re-organisation there wasn’t much evidence of it, as the team looked like they were beginning to run out of ideas, other than to wave their arms at us to encourage us to make more noise.

Southampton’s well-drilled five man defence continued to deny space to our main threats, with Rutter again being quite ineffectual, and Summerville double-marked wherever he went. Where necessary they stopped us with niggly fouls, conceding six bookings to our two (so much for the ‘dirty Leeds’ tag) safe in the knowledge that we were unlikely to make good use of our free-kicks.

Summerville duly sent a free kick well over the bar from a good position. Rodon nearly became an unlikely scorer, with the ball bouncing back to him from a couple of tackles, before he was finally dispossessed in the act of shooting. It came to Summerville on the edge of the area, but his curling shot went just wide. On 66 minutes Gnonto was the first player replaced, possibly because he hadn’t fully recovered from a knock he took in the first half.

Dan James came on, and would produce more of a threat in the time that remained than his colleagues had in over an hour so far. The next subs saw Roberts come on at right back while Archie moved to midfield at the expense of Kamara. While Anthony came on for Summerville, which could well be the last we will ever see of him in a Leeds shirt.

Then finally there was a tactical change on 83 minutes, with a trademark Farke ‘throw all the forwards on’ move, as Joseph replaced Firpo and we went to three at the back. Joseph looked lively as the pressure mounted, with their defence having to make a couple of desperate clearing headers, but we were close to being caught on the break, with Edozie putting the ball over the bar from a good position.

Then came our ‘sliding doors’ moment, as with our best chance of the whole game. James controlled a high bouncing ball on his chest before hitting a volley that came down off the underside of the bar and bounced clear. If it had been a couple of inches lower did we now have the momentum to go on and win the game? Our were Southampton just sitting back because they had the lead, and had another gear to find if need be?

As we came up to 90 minutes James took a whack on the head as he contested a header, and needed stitches for his head wound after the game, but managed to play on, like a real trooper. Nine extra minutes were announced, but that wouldn’t start till the end of the lengthy stoppage, which was about 91:40. Something the Saints fans failed to note as they hooted for the final whistle.

Deep into stoppage time Anthony cut inside and played the ball to James, whose shot was curling away from McCarthy towards the corner, but without enough power to beat the keeper’s dive. Apart from that Southampton managed to keep the ball down the other end for long enough as time ran out, and the final whistle confirmed that this most frustrating of all seasons would end with Leeds still in the Championship.


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