Patrick Bamford and Tyler Roberts down Southampton and ensure Leeds top-10 finish

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·3-min read
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Leeds United's Patrick Bamford celebrates scoring their side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton. Picture date: Tuesday May 18, 2021 - PA/Frank Augstein 
Leeds United's Patrick Bamford celebrates scoring their side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton. Picture date: Tuesday May 18, 2021 - PA/Frank Augstein
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At half-time, Leeds United were out of sorts, cowed by the noisy Southampton crowd and their chance-spurning team. Then, galvanised by two half-time Marcelo Bielsa substitutions and the resurgence of Patrick Bamford, Leeds shook themselves down, created a hatful of their own chances, converted two of them and flew back to Yorkshire with the three points which took them to eight place and guaranteed their first Top 10 finish in 19 years.

“It wasn’t me,” claimed Bielsa. “After a poor first half, the individual players who made the team look more like what they actually are in the second.”

“We cannot play much better than we did in the first half,” argued Ralph Hasenhuttl, the Southampton manager, who admitted his summer priority is to bolster his colander defence. “But they rested in the first 45 minutes, while we invested so much. In the second half, Leeds had another gear we just couldn’t find.”

The evening augured well for Southampton. Nathan Tella’s bravura 30-minute showing against Fulham on Saturday earned him a start, while Theo Walcott’s late goal eased the way to both a starting berth and a new two-year deal.

Ever unpredictable Leeds head coach Bielsa gave goalkeeper Kiko Casilla only his second league start of the season and the promise that he will start on Sunday when West Bromwich Albion visit Elland Road. Leeds’s own glittering Saturday substitute, Rodrigo, started in the centre of midfield.

More intriguing still, there were 8,000 noisy, mostly socially distanced, mostly mask-wearing fans there to evaluate it. Suddenly, a game which meant little beyond ever-cited, ever-mercurial pride and merit payments, was the conduit for re-bonding and when Southampton emerged to a din that was on the louder aide of raucous, how enthusiastically they and their hitherto exiled audience bonded.

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Buoyed by waves of goodwill, Southampton began like an express train. Tella preyed upon Luke Ayling’s uncertainties and Casilla was soon justifying his presence with a flying save from Che Adams’s header after sterling Stuart Armstrong work. Just before the break the Spanish goalkeeper would foil the same striker with a fingertip save after further Tella endeavour, although the youngster would soon tire.

Unaccustomed to playing with a back three, Leeds looked unnerved both by their infrequently deployed formation and a hostile audience. So great was Bielsa’s displeasure that both Llorente and Kalvin Phillips did not return for the second half. Two minutes into it, fans’ Player Of The Year James Ward-Prowse curled a delightful free-kick onto Casilla’s bar. Then Leeds woke up and the contest began to revolve around Bamford. First, he hit the post from the tightest of angles. Soon afterwards, he rounded Alex McCarthy but stayed on his feet when the goalkeeper appeared to make contact. Then the striker was laid low for some time after his face accidentally but painfully connected with Mohammed Salisu’s shoulder

Finally, there came redemption when Rodrigo chipped a lovely ball into the space beyond Salisu. Bamford ran on, drew McCarthy and slipped a lovely finish past the goalkeeper for the 16th goal of his most productive Premier League season.

“Be what may with the Euros,” shrugged Bielsa. “Patrick gave a very generous performance tonight, a season which he’s shone because of the effort and dedication he’s put in.”

That was that in terms of points, but there was a second Leeds goal in added time when Rapinha wonderfully controlled Casilla’s kick out and crossed from the right. With Southampton’s defence outnumbered by Leeds’s eager white-shirted gazelles, Bamford’s shot was deflected by McCarthy to Tyler Roberts, who gently stroked home and Leeds had the result their boldness deserved.

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