Junior Firpo's cathartic moment is a reward for perseverance as Leeds United hold their nerve

HOWARD WILKINSON looked into the camera with a steely glare and said simply: ‘Do you want to win?’

Judging by his performance on Saturday, there’s a fair chance that Junior Firpo might have seen footage of Leeds United’s feted documentary and been listening.

Playing in a problem position for the club in recent years, the left-back’s time at Leeds has been chequered, let’s be honest.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There have been groans from supporters, at fairly regular intervals in truth, at costly - and sometimes inexplicable - moments of defensive slackness, A long way from home, it cannot have been easy.

Junior Firpo celebrates his first league goal for Leeds United. Picture: Bruce RollinsonJunior Firpo celebrates his first league goal for Leeds United. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Junior Firpo celebrates his first league goal for Leeds United. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

That he hasn’t complained and upped sticks and has instead persevered and come back for more is commendable.

His picture adorned the front cover of the matchday programme and finally, finally, he had his moment in real time on Saturday on a day when Leeds simply had to win however it transpired.

Should Leeds secure their place in the big time for a fourth successive season in May, the defender's fateful intervention will be recalled fondly. The name of Junior Firpo might just raise a smile.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Perseverance was the operative word not just for Firpo, but Leeds’s performance against a feeble, unsatisfactory, there-for-the-taking Southampton side.

Things didn't work out for a good while and the hosts banged their heads against the equivalent of a brick wall in an exercise in frustration, but crucially they did not get overly disheartened. Firpo certainly didn’t and it was he who toppled an unambitious Saints team who got what they deserved. Nothing.

He forged a nice little axis with Wilfried Gnonto for spells in the first half down the left and showed an appetite and willingness to get forward. He was also steadfast in his defensive work.

Firpo had made a presentable case for being Leeds’s best player on the day before the events he will now remember in the 77th minute.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A mistake - or precious morsel of quality - was always likely to settle Saturday's outcome and so it proved.

Delightful play in the left-hand corner from substitute Crysencio Summerville found Jack Harrison. He had the presence of mind to notice Firpo in support.

He played him in with a cute back-heel and Firpo did the rest, slotting the ball underneath Gavin Bazunu, with a slight deflection off Jan Bednarek. His first league goal for Leeds and its value was inestimable.

Bedlam ensued around most of a thoroughly relieved Elland Road.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At full-time, Firpo fist-punched towards the South Stand. It was cathartic - Firpo’s time - and everyone was with him. He was not on his own any more.

Sensibly, Javi Gracia did not overdo it with the celebrations, but there was inner satisfaction nevertheless.

He earned his corn in particular for his decision to bring on Summerville for Gnonto, which left some scratching their heads. In the event, it worked out rather nicely.

After professing to very little rest in the working week, Gracia will have slept more soundly on Saturday evening. Here was a base camp.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A rare clean sheet and a cherished win – a first at league level since Bonfire Night - on a day when you feared for Leeds if anything else ensued.

Southampton were woeful, but the fact Leeds's disciplined backline did not give them any encouragement in any case was important to recognise.

Whisper it gently, this was an orderly defensive display and for that, most people were grateful.

Briefly in the first half, James Ward-Prowse looked like he might take hold of things. He was a man alone and it was Leeds who kept the ball - even if they did not do much with it - and not Saints. No-one was on Ward-Prowse’s wavelength.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In the first half, Leeds huffed and puffed. The recalled Brenden Aaronsen got involved - he dragged a shot wide and saw a goalbound header hit a team-mate in Harrison - while Gnonto looked like he could trouble Ainsley Maitland-Niles if he was given the ball early enough.

Yet the quality count was pretty low and any time Leeds looked like getting up a head of steam, Southampton players needed no hesitation to hit the deck when challenged to break their flow.

Saints got their clean sheet at the interval. They still looked susceptible, that said, with the handling of keeper Bazunu - who wiped his brow when he spilled a centre shortly before the break and Weston McKennie hooked the loose ball over - hardly assured.

Bazunu would err in the game-breaking moment later when Firpo's shot evaded him. It broke Southampton and there was no late onslaught; Leeds rested easy for once.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Leeds United: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Wober, Firpo; McKennie, Adams; Harrison, Aaronson (Rutter 75), Gnonto (Summerville 60); Bamford (Roca 86). Substitutes unused: Robles, Gyabi, Kristensen, Monteiro, Greenwood, Joseph.

Southampton: Bazunu; Maitland-Niles, Bednarek, Bella-Kotchap, Perraud (Walker-Peters 71); S Armstrong (Walcott 63), Ward-Prowse, Lavia, Elyounoussi (A Armstrong 82); Sulemana (Diallo 63), Onuachu (Mara 63). Substitutes unused: Caballero, Caleta-Car, Djenepo, Alcaraz.

Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).