15 July 2024

Saints beat Leeds with first-half flurry

Written BySFC Media
An electrifying first half powered Southampton back to winning ways with a statement of intent against in-form Leeds in front of the Sky Sports cameras at St Mary’s.

Saints were ahead inside two minutes courtesy of a cheeky chip from Adam Armstrong, who later took his tally to seven Sky Bet Championship goals for the season.

Gavin Bazunu’s flying save kept Georginio Rutter at bay before the hosts added two goals in four minutes from two Kamaldeen Sulemana assists.

First the winger picked out the run of Will Smallbone, who brilliantly rolled in Saints’ second, before Kamaldeen found Armstrong, who turned his man and fired low into the far corner with the help of a deflection.

Pascal Struijk pulled one back for Leeds just shy of the hour mark, as the visitors pushed to spark an unlikely comeback, but Saints had earned this victory on their first-half performance alone.

Russell Martin responded to his side’s fourth straight defeat with four changes, including a first start of the season for Kamaldeen, and a first since August for Carlos Alcaraz, who lined up as part of the front three.

Elsewhere, there were recalls for Ryan Manning and Stuart Armstrong, as Mason Holgate, Shea Charles, Ryan Fraser and Ché Adams dropped to the bench.

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Stuart Armstrong impressed on his return to the Saints midfield

Saints have been stung by conceding early far too often in recent weeks, but this time Martin’s team were the ones celebrating inside the first two minutes.

Kyle Walker-Peters, restored to the right side of the defence, set off on a trademark burst into the opposition half and threaded an accurate left-footed pass through for his captain.

Armstrong did not have to break stride, but still had plenty to do with Illan Meslier advancing and the angle narrowing, yet the Championship’s leading scorer was unfazed, brilliantly lifting a delicate chip over the keeper despite having very little goal to aim at.

Saints were straight into their stride, pouring forward with tremendous enthusiasm. The pace of Kamaldeen earned a corner hooked over by Will Smallbone, while Stuart Armstrong’s frustration towards Manning for not finding his run underlined the upturn in intensity.

Leeds came into the game in fine form and on the back of four successive clean sheets, and the early goal rocked them for 15 minutes, but the visitors did grow into the contest.

Georginio Rutter tried his luck with a 25-yard curler that was destined for the top corner until Gavin Bazunu leapt to his right to repel a superb shot with an even better save.

Goalscorer Armstrong and Smallbone both went into the book in the first 20 minutes as Saints stopped Leeds’ quick counters at source.

But in Kamaldeen, surely the fastest player in the division, Saints have a potent counter-attacking weapon of their own who was instrumental in taking the game away from Leeds in the final 15 minutes of the half.

Initially escaping down the left, he intelligently waited for the run of Smallbone, expertly picked him out and let the midfielder do the rest with a brilliant first-time finish, coolly steered into the far corner via the foot of the post.

Saints had their mojo back, and attacked again when Kamaldeen skipped inside from the left this time. With St Mary’s imploring him to shoot, the Ghanaian instead picked out another fine pass, this time to Armstrong on the right side of the box.

Such is his confidence, the forward dropped a shoulder to turn inside, then suddenly jinked outside his man, buying enough time to drill a low shot across Meslier and into the far corner, with the help of defender Struijk.

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Adam Armstrong’s shot finds the net via defender Pascal Struijk to give Saints a 3-0 first-half lead

It might have been four before the interval, as Walker-Peters set off down the right once more, turning back and crossing with his left foot for the unmarked Alcaraz at the far post, but the Argentinian struggled to generate the power in his header, which Meslier was able to help on its way over.

Taylor Harwood-Bellis made an important stoppage-time block from Crysencio Summerville to maintain Saints’ three-goal cushion, as the half-time whistle was greeted with rapturous applause from the majority and boos from the away end.

Alcaraz quickly resumed his search for a goal at the start of the second period only to shoot against the legs of a defender, while Stuart Armstrong saw one deflect wide.

But this was a more controlled display than the enterprising opening – or at least it was until Struijk’s clever touch, turn and finish following a Leeds corner that Saints were unable to clear.

Martin immediately responded by introducing Fraser for Kamaldeen, but Leeds had their tails up, and Saints were fortunate that Joël Piroe’s touch let him down when the summer signing from Swansea had a clear route to goal.

The arrival of Charles and Adams followed soon after Daniel James fired a shot wide of Bazunu’s near post, as Leeds gained belief.

But Piroe’s instinctive effort inside a crowded penalty area was easily gathered by Bazunu, who parried away Rutter’s ambitious shot from an impossible angle as Saints saw out the game for a job well done.

FULL TIME: Saints 3-1 Leeds

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