Leeds United’s playoff pain goes on as Southampton promoted to Premier League

Adam Armstrong’s 24th goal of the season enough to send the Saints straight back up

Championship playoff final: Leeds United 0 Southampton 1

Southampton’s squad ventured to the Isle of Wight for a get-together at the end of the regular season, where majority owner, Dragan Solak, who dragged his fingernails down his face during the final minutes here, promised they would have the party of their lives if they sealed promotion.

The chances are those celebrations will take place somewhere more exuberant or exotic after Adam Armstrong’s goal secured Southampton a return to the Premier League at the first attempt via a typically fraught Championship playoff final which totalled more than 102 minutes. For Leeds, it was more playoff final agony, this their fourth to end in tears. For Russell Martin, this was a beautiful ending to a fine season but for Daniel Farke, under whom he played at Norwich, it was an altogether different feeling.

It was a goal that embodied everything about Southampton’s style, the ultimate vindication for Martin’s methodical approach. Not that Martin, a staunch believer in the formula, cares if those on the outside have their doubts. It was a sequence that took Glen Kamara and Georginio Rutter out of the game, a four-pass move that pulled Leeds apart, destroying any semblance of structure. Seconds before Taylor Harwood-Bellis assumed possession inside his own half, Martin pleaded with his players to remain patient: pick your moment.

Then came the killer pass, first from Flynn Downes to feed Ireland international Will Smallbone, who joined Saints as an eight-year-old and was not short of familiar faces in the home support. The Leeds captain, Ethan Ampadu, was guilty of getting sucked into the ball and Smallbone poked a pass into Armstrong, always a willing runner, who galloped into the gaping hole in the centre of the opposition defence. It was a case of role-reversal; Armstrong, who earlier declined to shoot in favour of cutting the ball back for Smallbone, found the far corner with all the panache of a player scoring his 24th goal of the season.


The Leeds teenager Archie Gray had the game’s first effort on four minutes, sending a low strike wide of Alex McCarthy’s post after a driving diagonal run from right back. Then Wilfried Gnonto, withdrawn midway through the second half, saw a weak shot dribble harmlessly towards the Southampton goal.

A rich but fair tussle between Gray and Ryan Fraser after Crysencio Summerville was crowded out was indicative of an entertaining game and smart refereeing by John Brooks. After that early promise, however, Southampton were rarely troubled. Soon even the smallest of stoppage gnawed at an already irritated Leeds.

For Saints, the sight of Summerville, the division’s player of the season, joining Gnonto in the away dugout after his fizz evaporated on a dispiriting afternoon was the closest thing to a veiled compliment given the stakes.

Southampton came close to doubling their advantage approaching first-half stoppage time. When Samuel Edozie, who replaced the injured David Brooks 10 minutes earlier, was tripped by Junior Firpo, Smallbone composed himself for a free-kick from 30 yards. Smallbone perfected the apparent plan, locating an unmarked Armstrong who stealthily ran off Kamara, his marker, to nip to the front of the posse of shirts in the box.

Armstrong got the ball under his spell with his first touch, swivelled and then shot at goal, through the legs of Joel Piroe, forcing Illan Meslier to push his effort clear with his right glove. Joe Rodon hacked the ball to safety to prevent Harwood-Bellis jumping on the rebound. Armstrong then had another effort blocked by Rodon.

There was a reason Martin set about signing Downes on loan from West Ham last summer. Downes, whom Martin signed for his previous club, Swansea City, was omnipresent, one minute a human vacuum of sorts and another breathing life into a Southampton attack. Harwood-Bellis, too, another loanee was again outstanding in defence alongside Jan Bednarek.

Southampton offered Leeds little encouragement and when they did the substitute Daniel James rattled the underside of the crossbar with 84 minutes on the clock. Southampton had to ride out Leeds pressure in more than nine minutes of stoppage time, in which James forced a fine save from McCarthy with a swerving shot, but the Saints would not be blown off course late on. – Guardian