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Southampton V Leeds United The Wembley Play Off Final Verdict
Tuesday, 28th May 2024 09:28

No one can argue with the result, nor the performance which was not a typical Southampton game usually seen under Russell Martin, but all in all it is a day that will always be remembered by those present.

As a game of football this was not a great display, it was a tense nervous game that rarely saw either keeper tested and was settled by one of the few good moves of the game, but no one should underestimate the hard work that Saints put in to win this.

From the start this was not a game that followed the pattern of most Saints performances this season, instead of the usual 65% or more possession stats, they had to play much of it without the ball, it was Leeds who had 58% of the ball with Russell Martin's side having to work hard to get the ball enjoying just 42%.

So it was always going to be about working hard and keeping the game tight and when a chance came taking it, in truth it was Southampton who had the better of the chances and the crucial one came on 24 minutes, Will Smallbone has not been the star of the Saints side for much of this season, but he has been a vital part of it, doing the grafting and playing the ball short, not to mention a few goals here and there.

In essence it was perhaps the simplest pass of the game to Adam Armstrong, but it was also one of the best, a simple weighted pass into space for the striker to run onto, it split the Leeds defence and Adam Armstrong finished clinically to send half the 85,000 in the crowd, bigger than the previous days cup final, into ecstasy.

From then on it was going to be tense and nervous, could we hold on to the lead or indeed increase it, the loss of David Brooks on 35 minutes saw him replaced by Sam Edozie, so attack was still on the cards.

On reflection Saints rarely looked like losing this game or indeed conceding a goal, Leeds only real dangerous moment was when Dan James hit the bar with 6 minutes left, that was not luck, it was down to 100% effort from everyone that got on the pitch and a superb defensive display that saw us rarely lose a challenge, fail to clear a ball or for that matter and more importantly leave someone unmarked.

Alex McCarthy was strong and composed when called upon and the back four were immense, I include Jack Stephens in that, my issue with him in the team has never been about him personally, it has always been about the fact that the manager shoe horned him into the side and caused disruption by dropping key players to do so and breaking up a solid back four in the process.

All four of that back line were 9/10 and indeed there is a case for 10/10.

They were ably supported by the midfield, Ryan Fraser worked hard in front of Stephens as did Brooks on the other flank, in the centre Will Smallbone, Flynn Downes and Joe Aribo were immense, it was going to be about hard graft and they did it.

That left Adam Armstrong up front and he put in his usual hard working game and it is fitting that he was the man of the match on the day not only for his well taken goal, but his usual blood, sweat & tears.

The substitutions have been a contentious issue at times this season, only three were made and one of them was enforced, Russell Martin stuck with the foundations built and just tweaked rather than the usual mass changes seen at some games this season, that paid dividends. Ryan Manning and Che Adams were the right changes at the right time.

With 9 minutes of injury time coming on the board without the extra to be added for the head injury incident at the end of normal time, it was going to be tense, but in truth it wasn't, Leeds were a spent force, every time they tried to get a head of steam they found a solid wall in front of them, they could not find any chink in our armour and you could see the confidence draining from them and the frustration replacing it and yes i know it didn't feel like that at the time !

The final moment perhaps encompassed the spirit in the side, as Leeds went to launch a last ball forward with over 11 minutes of injury time played, Joe Aribo ran across it and the player kicked our man instead of the ball, Aribo went down and received a yellow card for his pain, but he had broken up the momentum and those eagle eyed would have noticed Adam Armstrong mistake the referee blowing up for this incident as the final whistle and tearing off his shirt and running towards the Saints fans twirling it around his head, he had to quickly put it back on and get back behind the ball.

The subsequent freekick would be the last kick of the match, although our defensive header out would be the last touch and finally Adam Armstrong could start the celebrations for real.

And did those celebration start, yes they did and although no one is pretending this was a Cup Final and I certainly don't agree with perhaps the largest trophy in English Football being presented to the winner, but it was the culmination of a long and tough season, that started with the decimation of our squad in July & August as a large part of last season's squad queued patiently to get out of the club and has ended with a great day out at Wembley and will perhaps be remembered much more than the Johnstones Paint Trophy in 2010, back then there was truly nothing really to play for other than a good day out, but this had everything on it, make no bones about it.

So now we are back in the Premier League and the real work starts again, we have the foundations of a side capable of staying up in the top flight, it is just a question of who stays and who goes and more importantly who comes in.

The question is can Russell Martin's possession football game work in the Premier League given that we won't have the money of Manchester City and others who play it well, but perhaps the first indication of how we will set up next season came in this game, this was not a possession football game, at least not in the manner that we have become used to, this was a game when we had to work and graft and go on the break when we got the ball, it was not about passing the ball along the back four, we changed our game to suit the occasion and that has to bode well for next season.

Photo: Action Images

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HythePeer added 09:42 - May 28
Well done everyone!

Centurion added 09:51 - May 28
Came good in the end.
I feared we would be finishing mid table after the September results.

arfurdent added 09:55 - May 28
we won


Block8 added 09:58 - May 28
A great day & another indication that RM is growing as a manager tactically. All Leeds success has been based on a very high press and rapid attack when the ball has been won. All RM did today (and the last game against them) was sit a little deeper and let them have the ball. This meant that their midfield had to think about ways to get through our lines, other than dropping a ball behind us and they weren't good enough. That is a simple way of looking at it but basically is it. We kept the ball reasonably well when we had and everyone had to put a shift in. It's a lot more demanding physically when you are chasing the ball. Perfect game plan, perfectly executed. 10/10 for all of them.
I have very much enjoyed this season and will miss some great away days but we need to be up there with the best. Will be a bumpy ride but we must stay behind them all the way.

Bowlercow added 09:59 - May 28
We need to get in players keen to play Russball in the hope they will impress the sky six enought to buy them But we must only sell when we have a replacement ready
Some experienced PL players out of contract like Varane and Martial from Utd Yes they would have to take a pay cut but that applies wherever they go At least they could keep their PL status

Farlow added 10:06 - May 28
Alex Macarthy was excellent commanded his 6yard box superbly which gave his defence the confidence to ptoduce our best defensive display of the year. Everybody gve their all but i
thought KWP Was superb.Ive been critical in the past but full credit to all involved especially
Russell Martin who was not afraid to change his normal tactics,

davidargyll added 10:13 - May 28
Observations on an INCREDIBLE day
1. I have no doubt that Alex McCarthy has got so much better because he has a much more confident and settled back line in front of him. Yes he was lousy last season but he has shown that, by sticking to his last, he was quite capable of improving a massive amount.
2. Whoever had the idea of putting red and white flags on Saints’ seats was brilliant. This was a Masterstroke. Looking out at the Leeds end before and during the game, they were holding scarves and were unmoving, whereas our end everyone was waving like mad and I am convinced that made just a little bit of difference from the off to our mood and the enthusiasm.
3. I could hardly believe my eyes when Leeds started doing what we were so guilty of not so long ago, ie passing the ball sideways and backwards. A real sign of lack of confidence if ever there was one.
4. Speaking to Leeds fans on the way home, they all thought their team didn’t really turn up. And furthermore that Farke did an awful job with his subs. (Again echoes of RM in the past).
5. I just loved the way, from about 20 minutes into H2, we did absolutely everything to disrupt Leeds’ rhythm, pushing them, fouling them, kicking the ball out, marking them really closely… in other words we did a real job on them.
6. Munch munch munch. That is the sound of me eating humble pie about RM plus Rasmus Ankersen and his moneyball theories. What can you say, he/they have done us proud this season and if RM can keep this amazing spirit, camaraderie, never-say-die attitude and great self-belief going, who knows what we might achieve next season. At the very least I can see us worrying a few of the lesser mortals in the PL.

PaleRider added 10:31 - May 28
Congrats to everyone from SR through RM, the players to the fans! I didn't dream that we would bounce straight back up and, although I am still not 100% convinced by RM, I feel that he deserves his shot at the Premier League, especially as he has developed some alternative tactics. I have also been impressed by how certain players have stepped up in the last couple of weeks - again, this has bought them a chance next season.

Hopefully we get the recruitment right in the summer. This will involve Saints being brutal about the non-achievers and those who don't want to be at the club as well as buying wisely, rather than just following a dogmatic mantra.

It seems that Saints actually seem to thrive on adversity. Anyway, now is the time to celebrate and relax!

EvertonSaint added 10:32 - May 28
So, who goes, who stays and who do we accept back from loans? I would certainly like Romain back, Lyanco must be on his way, possibly with Che Adams. Bella Kotcha is due back along with possibly Alcatraz. Charly has only played 347 minutes for Juventus, 13 appearances. We certainly need a new keeper, two midfielders and maybe two strikers. It looks like being another interesting summer at the shops.

stmichael added 11:27 - May 28
It was a back 3 with wing backs and I agree that is the best way to accommodate all three of our excellent centre backs.
We played that way because we had to stop Leeds strengths of counter attacking and for the 2nd game in a row against them they subbed off their ineffective forwards due to our game plan.
Genius from RM and two fingers to those who casually throw around the “we haven’t got a plan B card”..
This was a 50/50 game and as I chatted to some Leeds fans on the way to the ground I said it would be down to which manager excelled on the day.
With the ball there wasn’t much in it.
Without it we were streets ahead miles better..
Probably the most drained I have ever felt at the end of a game..
Possibly the biggest game in our entire history and I felt that weight from start to finish..
What a day our second best day at Wembley by far 😇

highfield49 added 11:57 - May 28
A truly gritty, organised and disciplined performance from every player and further proof that RM is developing into a solid tactician and man manager.
Promotion looked like a lost cause just a few weeks ago, poor performances and defeats against very average opposition sucked the spirit out of many supporters, myself included. Thankfully the fat lady (no comments about Kat please, they're beyond contempt) hadn't gone awol and was just warming up to serenade all the pundits betting their ill earned wages on Leeds winning with ease.
Happy days are here again!


HoustonSaint added 12:21 - May 28
Fantastic result!!! These are the days you live for as a fan. The tactics were spot on which has not always been the case this season, but RM might be improving in this area. When you consider the debacle of last season, the amount of players lining up to exit and the rock bottom morale in the changing room it was quite an achievement.
We have to buy some additional premier league talent if we are going to survive next year. There is a lot of talk about keeping this group together, but let’s not forget this forward line etc was a big part of us getting relegated last year. Hopefully management learned their lesson from that….. we shall see.

DPeps added 15:16 - May 28
Great performance. Everyone put in a shift. I like that we are playing to the opposition more. We'll need to do this in the prem. RM is definitely growing.
My mind can't help but think forward to what we need to strengthen the first team but this can probably wait for another day.

IanRC added 09:14 - May 29
Great performance all round really, personally would have put on Sulemana rather than Edozie for the get out ball but pretty much everything else spot on. Next season let’s have the women going up too.

SanMarco added 11:10 - May 29
A great day and a deserved win. Well done to players, management and fans.

Great report Nick and thanks for another brilliant season on TUI.

RM was appointed to get us back up at the first go. He has succeeded and deserves a crack at managing in the Prem. Like all but one of the posters above I fully intend to leave other discussion until I have finished enjoying this!! There will be plenty of time to discuss our anxieties and hopes for next season. For now let's celebrate a long overdue win at Wembley...

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