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Friday, June 21, 2024

Leeds 0 Southampton 1: Armstrong scores signature goal to clinch promotion

Southampton go marching back into the Premier League after overcoming Leeds United in a battle of wills in the Championship play-off final.

Russell Martin’s side, who were relegated with Leeds last season, reigned supreme in the match dubbed ‘the most lucrative’ in football, winning promotion and an expected revenue increase of at least £140million ($178m) over the next three seasons.

Adam Armstrong’s first-half goal proved the difference as Southampton held Leeds at arm’s length at Wembley Stadium, and they can now look forward to Premier League football again in 2024-25, while Leeds will have to construct a Championship escape plan all over again.

Nancy Froston and Phil Hay break down how the play-off final was won.

How did Southampton pull apart Leeds’ back line again?

It is a move Leeds have seen before when they have faced Southampton this season. A quick transition through midfield, Adam Armstrong in behind and the ball nestling in the back of Illan Meslier’s net.

Armstrong scores the game’s winning goal (Andrew Kearns – CameraSport via Getty Images)

You could have cut and pasted the move from Southampton’s two league wins over Leeds, and then again at Wembley for the opener as Leeds’ back line was pulled out of shape. Will Smallbone then played in Armstrong for his 24th goal of the season.

It was not the first time in the match that Armstrong had got in behind, either. In an earlier move, he cut the ball back for the onrushing Smallbone but Leeds were able to scramble clear — another move that worked to great effect in the earlier league games for Southampton.

Smallbone has been hard to track on those attacking patterns and scored from a similar move earlier in the season. It was a hammer blow for Leeds, who had momentum at the time after an impressive opening period in the game. It proved to be decisive.

Nancy Froston

How will Leeds be impacted by failure to win promotion?

And here, in a nutshell, is why Leeds United hate the play-offs.

Six attempts to win them… six defeats. There’s a paranoia about them at Elland Road and, as time goes on, it’s more and more difficult to argue that the club’s fear is unjustified.

Defeat in 2024 follows failure in 2019, 2009, 2008, 2006 and 1987. Wembley today was very much their last two final appearances distilled: a shadow of their best selves, struggling to lay a glove on the opposition, beaten in the last way anyone wants to lose — without starting a fire.

Manager Daniel Farke was not asked to win promotion this season; Leeds’ ownership was realistic enough to accept that, after relegation 12 months ago, it might take more than one year to get back to the Premier League.

But having gone so close and passed up two big chances tamely — one to get automatically promoted, another in the play-offs — today’s result will sting. And there will be consequences.

Joel Piroe bemoans Leeds’ misfortune at Wembley (Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Leeds expect to go again next season, to compete at the top end of the Championship as they have this time, and they are expected to stick with Farke too. However, profitability and sustainability (PSR) limits will force them to sell players and raise money in the transfer window ahead of them.

This wasn’t set up as a one-season adventure for Farke but, in terms of his squad, there’s no way it can look the same as it does now when next season starts. Another very busy summer awaits.

Phil Hay

Walker-Peters rises to the occasion 

Kyle Walker-Peters looked a cut above — and has done all season — for Southampton. Robust in his defensive duties and offering plenty going forward, the full-back has been one of Southampton’s standout players this season.

Had Russell Martin’s side failed to win promotion this year, the fear would be the need to sell him this summer to adhere to financial fair play (FFP) rules. But as a Premier League club, Southampton have a much better chance of holding onto him.

Walker-Peters was imperious against Leeds’ threatening forward line (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

In contrast, Leeds’ star player, Crysencio Summerville, had a quiet afternoon before being subbed in the second half.

Summerville, also the Championship player of the season, never really got a look in against his opposite number Walker-Peters, aside from a couple of wayward efforts on goal. When you need a bit of magic, Leeds’ tricky winger can often provide a solution — but the play-off final can cause even the brightest talents to wilt under pressure.

Can Leeds keep hold of him next season? Losing big players was always a worry for the defeat finalists.

Nancy Froston

What did Daniel Farke say?

“In a few days, you look at the bigger picture,” said Leeds manager Farke, who previously led Norwich City to two automatic promotions from the Championship.

“We’ll take this as extra motivation to come back stronger. It’ll be difficult to come back stronger, because we were there with 90 points during the season — overall, a great achievement.

“But to be there with the perfect outcome, to call yourself a Premier League side, this is something we want.”

What did Russell Martin say?

“I just feel really grateful. I felt, as well, loads of gratitude about what the staff and the supporters,” the Southampton manager said.

“I feel like it wasn’t a sexy appointment for Southampton, me coming in (from fellow Championship side Swansea City last summer), and hopefully I’ve given them a day they can remember forever. It’s given me one of the best days of my career.

“As a group of players and young men, it’s been incredible what they’ve done. I thought the toughest bit at the start of the season was seeing how fractured the group had become by relegation.

“I hope we can keep as many of that group together as we possibly can. (It’s) for them to really enjoy it. I’ll probably end up in bed alone tonight, crying my eyes out and feeling nothing but love for them.”

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(Top photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

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