As they waited for the teams to be announced Leeds fans debated whether their new manager, Javi Gracia, should drop Junior Firpo.
Not everyone appeared delighted when the new Head Coach opted to stick with the left-back but, in the 77th minute, Gracia’s faith was rewarded when Firpo scored his first Premier League goal.
It was a fine finish yet Gracia, back in the technical area after an eight month sabbatical following his sacking by the Qatari champions, Al Sadd, also deserves credit for the game-changing introduction of Crysencio Summerville who helped create Firpo’s precious strike.
Small wonder the Spaniard was left smiling. “I feel really good, really happy,” he said after seeing his side secure a first win in 11 league games and move out of the relegation zone. “It was one step but an important step. It was a tough game, a very close game, but we found a good balance. We waited for our moment and we took it. We also kept a clean sheet. That’s important and the way we need to grow. I’m very proud.”
Gracia had suggested he was open to modifying the aggressive, high intensity, pressing game Leeds adopted under Marcelo Bielsa and retained by Marsch and, sure enough, they played at a slightly slower tempo with a more measured approach.
Gracia’s players interspersed rapid changes of pace with prolonged bouts of patient passing. Significantly, they also used the flanks a little more than under Marsch, whose teams tended to be extremely narrow.
Not that these alterations initially delivered much success against a deep-sitting, well organised Southampton who were happy to turn midfield into an attritional battleground.
Rubén Sellés’s side created only one real chance during the opening 45 minutes – a counterattacking shot from Paul Onuachu, well saved by Illan Meslier, but they succeeded in restricting Leeds to half chances.
Gavin Bazunu – at 21 the top tier’s youngest goalkeeper – was only once in serious first-half trouble when, having left himself stranded after misjudging a cross, he was relieved to see Weston McKennie’s volley swerve off target.
Other than that, the moment when Brenden Aaronson’s goalbound header was deflected by the face of his teammate Jack Harrison was the closest Leeds came to turning their dominance in terms of possession into an advantage on the scoreboard.
As hard as the gifted Wilfried Gnonto worked on the left of the home attack, Southampton’s positioning was so efficient that the similarly industrious Leeds centre-forward Patrick Bamford found himself making runs to no avail.
Southampton changed formation from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 and started to threaten on the break themselves. Gracia responded with the bold decision to replace Gnonto with Summerville. That switch would have paid swift dividends had Kyle Walker-Peters, on as a substitute himself, not made a vital block to deny Summerville a goal.