Ralph Hasenhüttl had warned supporters not to expect a “five-star dinner” and while he was dressed for the occasion – stalking the touchline in a waistcoat and a crosshatch tie – a first three points of the season provided sufficient for Southampton fans to feast on. At the final whistle, Hasenhüttl leaned forward and clenched both fists but the biggest cheer was reserved for when, a couple of minutes after full-time, the public address announcer confirmed rivals Portsmouth had been hammered 4-1 at Rotherham. This was one of those rare perfect afternoons for Southampton to cherish.
Southampton, without key players themselves, overwhelmed a depleted Leeds side to record a much-needed victory courtesy of the Chelsea loanee Armando Broja’s first Premier League goal. He applied the finishing touch to a flying counterattack and a Leeds side that failed to register a shot on target only came close to hurting Southampton when the hosts pressed self-destruct. Their best opening was squandered 20 minutes from time by Daniel James, the winger poking wide after stealing the ball off Mohammed Salisu, who allowed a harmless high ball to bounce.
How Leeds missed the verve of Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha, both of whom were perched behind the away dugout covering their eyes from the low sun rather than on the pitch. Phillips was absent with the calf injury that forced him to pull out of the England squad and Raphinha, who scored his first goals for Brazil in Manaus in the early hours of Friday morning, was deemed too fatigued to feature after a 15-hour flight later that day.
But Southampton had to cope without their suspended captain, James Ward-Prowse, and Marcelo Bielsa was reluctant to make excuses despite not being able to call on Patrick Bamford, Luke Ayling, or Junior Firpo owing to injury. Leeds supporters have been treated to some mouthwatering displays under Bielsa in recent years but this was a painfully poor performance. “I don’t link the quality of our game to the absences of our players,” Bielsa said.
Leeds offered little going forward – Tyler Roberts’s wayward shot on the verge of half-time was as good as it got until Jack Harrison stepped inside Oriol Romeu and saw an effort deflected over five minutes after the break – and were erratic defensively, exposed when Southampton cantered upfield on the break three minutes later. James was crowded out in the hosts’ 18-yard box and, within a few seconds, Nathan Redmond was steaming forward and Leeds faced with a troublesome two v two scenario. Diego Llorente pointed at Broja in vain as the striker lashed into the roof of the net after Redmond, reinvigorated in attack, nudged the ball into his path. “I’m always very critical with him,” Hasenhüttl said of Redmond. “I know how good he can be.”
Leeds had to work overtime to stay in the game and their captain, Liam Cooper, made a superb sliding tackle to deny Romeu a free shot at goal after Broja flicked the ball into his path. Mohamed Elyounoussi twice went close and Illan Meslier had to repel a Broja shot after Pascal Struijk made a meal of a routine clearance. The chances were piling up for Southampton.
“The defeat was justified in the first half, even if they scored in the second,” Bielsa said.