Saints fall to late Leeds defeat


Junior Firpo struck the only goal of the game 13 minutes from time as Leeds inflicted a painful defeat on Southampton at Elland Road.

The contest between the Premier League’s bottom two, as it stood at kick-off, lacked clear goalscoring opportunities throughout, but the hosts had the best of them and finally made one count when Firpo’s low shot deceived Gavin Bazunu.

Rubén Sellés named an unchanged starting line-up following last week’s 1-0 win at Chelsea, though Duje Ćaleta-Car returned to the matchday squad among the substitutes.

Leading Leeds into battle for the first time was Javi Gracia, appointed this week as the club’s new head coach.

Gracia would have been encouraged by his team’s start, with Wilfried Gnonto the biggest threat down the hosts’ left, but there was a lack of early chances at both ends.

Saints soon settled into the game, with Romain Perraud and James Ward-Prowse both seeking the towering figure of Paul Onuachu from crosses that were beyond the striker.

Ward-Prowse then produced a raking pass over the head of Luke Ayling and into the path of Stuart Armstrong, who took the ball neatly in his stride and charged into the box but got his shot all wrong as he tried to fool Illan Meslier by shooting towards his near post, only to drag the chance wide.

Leeds responded with a low strike from Brenden Aaronson that just dribbled wide of Bazunu’s right-hand post.

This felt like a tense affair with plenty at stake. Leeds continued to look the most likely, as Patrick Bamford nipped in front of Armel Bella-Kotchap to meet a cross from the left, but could not connect sweetly enough to convert, before Jack Harrison tried his luck with a dipping shot that dropped a couple of yards wide.

Bella-Kotchap made amends by stopping a Leeds counter that the home side should have made more of, but American duo Weston McKennie and Aaronsen were indecisive, allowing Bella-Kotchap to step in.

Meslier was tested for the first time by Onuachu, with his foot rather than his head, as the Nigerian attempted an ambitious curling effort from long range that was on target and needed the goalkeeper to dive full length to thwart him.

There was one more moment of alarm before the interval when Bazunu pushed a corner away only as far as McKennie, whose attempt to lift the ball back over the keeper’s head was too high.

Sellés would have been pleased to get his players in at half time, but the ensuing improvement was not instant.

Before that, Bamford was rather too keen to fall over Jan Bednarek’s leg in the box when the Pole had not really made a challenge to invite it, before the England international forced Bazunu into a routine save.

Slowly but surely, Saints’ midfield pair of Ward-Prowse and Roméo Lavia were beginning to get a grip on the game, prompting Gracia to withdraw Gnonto, who was perhaps Leeds’ most dangerous player.

Sellés then did what he did last week at Stamford Bridge by making a triple change, as Ibrahima Diallo, Theo Walcott and Sékou Mara replaced Armstrong, Onuachu and Kamaldeen Sulemana just after the hour.

Chances remained in short supply. Kyle Walker-Peters, Saints’ fourth substitute, threw himself in the way of Crysencio Summerville’s shot 18 minutes from time, but Leeds’ moment would arrive five minutes later.

Again Summerville was involved, keeping the ball in play down by the corner flag and feeding it along the goal line for Harrison, whose backheel invited Firpo to finish the move with a low shot that eluded Bednarek, whose presence possibly caused Bazunu to see the ball late, as it squirmed beneath the keeper’s left arm in agonising fashion.

Saints attempted to pin Leeds back in the closing stages, but Bella-Kotchap’s glancing header from a Ward-Prowse corner was the closest they came.

Summerville should really have wrapped things up for Leeds deep into stoppage time, opting to go alone with Harrison in support, only to pull his low shot wide of the far post, but the vast majority inside Elland Road did not care when the final whistle sounded to confirm a winning start for Gracia.