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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Wembley Stadium

Saints clamber back to top flight at first time of asking as Leeds fade away



Championship play-off final

Leeds United (0) 0

Southampton (1) 1 Armstrong 24


They've fallen apart again.


Only one win in the final six games saw Leeds United blow automatic promotion and they failed to take advantage of the second chance offered by the play-offs.


They have had a miserable time in recent games at Wembley, failing to score on their two previous visits. Apart from the moment when sub Dan James crashed a shot against the underside of the crossbar late on, they did not look much like ending that sequence here.


Saints, more organised, more sure of themselves, never looked like being caught once they had grabbed a lead midway through the first half through the prolific Adam Armstrong.


History was on their side too as no team taking the lead in a Championship play-off final has failed to go up in the past 14 years.


Leeds' much-vaunted front line - minus the injured Patrick Bamford - just could not get going. James, head bandaged after a clash of heads with Kyle Walker-Peters - one of the men of the match for the Saints - was easily their best hope and he kept going until the end.


He forced a good save from Alex McCarthy with a low shot soon after the crossbar shot but it represented the last chance for Daniel Farke's men, who were underwhelming overall.


Perhaps the signs that they were not really up to it came a few weeks ago when they were demolished 4-0 at QPR. This is a team which largely lost its way in the final weeks of the season.


To Russell Martin's team, then, go the considerable spoils. The current estimated value of a return to the Premier League being £170m in TV revenue. Dropping down a division for a year has been no big deal, it turns out.


Their midseason run of a zillion unbeaten games paved the way for a promotion push and they looked the part today.


Ironically perhaps, Leeds started the brighter of the two teams, playing some slick football on a surface dampened by a pre kick-off downpour, but it counted for little without an end product and it was the Saints who stole a march.


Having barely been in the game, Southampton suddenly carved open the Leeds defence, with Will Smallbone playing the ball through for Armstrong to put away with a low drive which beat Illan Meslier and found the far bottom corner of the net.


It was the striker's 24th goal of the season and he scored in both of the Saints' wins over Leeds in the league this season, so it is not as if the Yorkshire outfit could have failed to anticipated where the greatest danger might lurk.


Long before the end, that goal seemed likely to be enough in what was overall, a disappointing spectacle. The afternoon finished with Saints players swirling their shirts above their heads and racing towards their fans at the west end of the stadium. Red flares lit up the arena.


For Martin - discarded as a player by Farke, when the pair were both at Norwich - it was sweet revenge.


Leeds: (4-2-3-1) Meslier - Gray, Rodon, Ampadu, Firpo - Gruev, Kamara (Roberts 74) - Gnonto (James 66), Rutter, Summerville (Anthony 74) - Piroe (Joseph 84)


Saints: (4-3-3) McCarthy - Walker-Peters, Harwood-Bellis, Bednarek, Stephens - Smallbone, Downes, Aribo - Brooks (Edozie 35) (Manning 84), Armstrong, Fraser (Adams 70)

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