Championship Playoff: Southampton pip Leeds to win promotion to Premier League in drab

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 the manager, 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 and to pick their moment.

For the 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, 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 encouragement only rarely 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.

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