Leeds Utd 1 (Firpo 77)
25th February 2023, Premier League.
Finally, we have won a must-win game! It wasn’t pretty and there was little to choose between two clearly nervy teams but, for once, Leeds got the big break as a Junior Firpo poke at goal found its way through a few legs and past the unsighted keeper. It would be stretching credulity to say this had much to do with Javi Gracia but maybe, just maybe, he’s brought some much-needed luck with him as well as some quality coaching ability! As someone once said, “I’d much rather be lucky than good!”
Leeds were the more adventurous of two sides struggling to come up with much quality, with Saints clearly having an eye on claiming just a point from very early in the game, but the chances Leeds fashioned were only half-chances at best and nothing much came of most of them. A ball broke loose for Luke Ayling to have a crack at but that went way over the bar and then Brenden Aaronson, looking much more like the positive, busy midfielder we saw before the World Cup break, scuffed a low shot wide. A similar effort scuffed wide of the Leeds posts at the other end. Jack Harrison was again largely failing to find his passing range but he curled a shot not far over the angle in the early stages. The best chance of the first half came when Weston McKennie blocked a clearance and found himself through on goal with Aaronson free inside him, only for McKennie’s pass to fail to find his teammate before he was closed down. A McKennie volley flew high wide and not very handsome and Illan Meslier was called upon once in that first half to catch a soft curling effort from the gangling Saints number 12, Onuachu. All in all, my halftime reflection was that this looked like a very familiar game, one we’ve seen most weeks all season. Leeds were marginally the better side but we were creating little to hurt the opposition and, every now and again, the thought crossed my mind that a sucker punch goal could find its way into our net.
There were even fewer chances of any note in the second half and it looked like we were heading for a nil-nil outcome until one moment of attacking invention saw Crysencio Summerville thread a ball between two covering defenders in the corner to find Jack Harrison. Harrison was alert enough to play a clever back-heel into the path of the marauding Firpo and his well-placed, though hardly stinging (!), side-foot shot wormed its way home. It was a deserved reward for a player who, in the last couple of games, has finally started to show some character and ability, and (whisper it quietly) maybe he will prove to be the long-lost left back we need!
Crysencio Summerville ought to have wrapped up the game in the final moments as he got free behind the Saints' backline but, once again, his finish lacked the quality that is expected at this level and he pulled a low shot wide of the far post.
The result was everything today though and we scraped through to get it. So many of our games, indeed so many of this season’s Premier League games full stop, have been close-fought affairs where one mistake is enough to make the difference; the majority of our defeats this season have been by a single goal and only Brentford, Leicester, and the Manchester clubs have seen us off by more than a one-goal margin. I’d guess that the rest of the season will be the same and we have to find a way, like today, to be as error-free as we can be every week and then to be clinical when those rare chances present themselves so that we are the team coming out on top by the odd goal.
This is a great start for Javi Gracia, I’m sure he won’t take the credit for it but I’m equally sure it will help him enormously as he now sets about planning for the rest of the season, it must be a huge confidence boost. As we’ve said many times, we are not significantly worse than most teams in the EPL this season, but we have shot ourselves in the foot more often than most, particularly in wasting winning positions in games. An astute coach ought to be able to get us over the line more often so let’s hope Javi is that man.
Leeds Utd South'ton
Possession 60% 40%
Shots 14 8
On Target 4 2
Corners 9 2
Fouls 15 13