Leeds United's new boss Javi Gracia hoping for boost in confidence from crucial win in his first game in charge

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New Leeds United head coach was proud of the Leeds United players as they gave him a winning start in a crucial relegation clash against Southampton at Elland Road.

In a tense contest one goal was always likely to prove enough and it came from an unlikely source with left-back Junior Firpo scoring only his second goal in a Leeds shirt – and first in the Premier League – 12 minutes from time to clinch a 1-0 success.

It was not the prettiest of goals with Firpo's shot somehow squeezing its way under Southampton keeper Gavin Bazunu, but no-one in the United camp was bothered about the way it went in, least of all delighted new boss Gracia.

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He said: "I am very proud of my players and very happy for all the supporters, for the club and all the people working at the club, especially the players because they were working without reward and they did it well.

Junior Firpo celebrates his winning goal against Southampton with Leeds United teammates.Junior Firpo celebrates his winning goal against Southampton with Leeds United teammates.
Junior Firpo celebrates his winning goal against Southampton with Leeds United teammates.

"When I came I could feel all the people in the club, around the club really needed a good result. I think it's good for the confidence of all of us. It is just a step but for us in this moment it's an important step.

"We only had one session together this week, but it was enough,we got the points.

“We knew Southampton in the last game was really solid, well organised and we knew it would be a really close game. We prepared as best as possible, trying to be solid, to be compact, working the game, waiting for our moment and I think we did it, the players did their job.”

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"It was important for us to be solid, to be compact, and we did that. We did not concede many chances.

New Leeds United head coach Javi Garcia on the touchline at Elland Road.New Leeds United head coach Javi Garcia on the touchline at Elland Road.
New Leeds United head coach Javi Garcia on the touchline at Elland Road.

“I think we found a good balance to defend well, to get a clean sheet and to be offensive in the way we could.

“I'm very optimistic, if with one day we can play like today, next week we are going to play much, much better.”

Gracia was happy with his first Elland Road experience in charge of the team.

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He added: "The atmosphere was something special and I want more days like this in this future. The supporters deserve this.

"I could see before coming, but to live it at home or to live it inside is different.”

Both teams struggled to create much early on, although Willy Gnonto's cross was only inches too high for Patrick Bamford and Romeo Lavia sent a volley wide at the other end.

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The hosts gradually got on top without ever quite believing they were going to score it seemed.

Luke Ayling lashed a shot over after being first to a loose ball in the box, Brenden Aaronson sent a low shot just wide from the edge of the area and then saw his goalbound header hit teammate Jack Harrison.

Southampton briefly threatened when Stuart Armstrong cut in from the left only to drag his shot wide.

Bamford finally managed an effort on target on 34 minutes with Bamford's volley comfortably saved by Bazunu, before Harrison's curling shot from the edge of the box went wide.

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Leeds' recent fortunes were almost summed up when McKennie won the ball and broke to have a two-on-one on the edge of the visitors' box. But his poor pass to the supporting Aaronson went behind his teammate and the danger was cleared – so well that Southampton had a chance at the other end. However, Ebere Onuachu's shot was well saved by Illan Meslier.

Just before half-time McKennie was involved again only to send his snap shot over after the ball broke to him in space in the area from a half-cleared corner.

Leeds made a bright start to the second half with shouts for a penalty on Bamford falling on deaf ears and the striker doing well to get a shot in a minute later only for Bazunu to save comfortably.

The game seemed to be drifting towards a draw with only brief threats as sub Crysencio Summerville had a shot blocked and James Ward-Prowse saw a 20-yard shot comfortably saved by Meslier.

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But suddenly a shout for handball raised hopes for the Whites. It was not given, but the ball was kept in play and Harrison's clever back heel set up Firpo to score what proved the winner with his weaker right foot.

Leeds saw out the remainder well and could have added to their lead in the closing stages as Max Wober's header from a corner was saved and Summerville raced clear from halfway only to see his shot go just wide.

Southampton did have one late chance to grab a point, but Armel Bella-Kotchap's header from a corner went well side.

Leeds United 1

(Firpo 78)

Southampton 0

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Premier League

Attendance: 36,641

Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Wober, Firpo; Adams, McKennie; Harrison, Aaronson (Rutter 75), Gnonto (Summerville 60); Bamford (Roca 86).

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Southampton: Bazunu; Maitland-Biles, Bednarek, Bella-Kochap, Perround (Walker-Peters 71); S Armstrong (Walcott 63), Lavia, Ward-Prowse, Elyounoussi (A Armstong 82); Sulemana (Mara 63), Onuachu (Diallo 63).

Referee: Peter Bankes