By George Overhill

25th Feb, 2023 | 4:52pm

Javi Gracia secured a massive Leeds United 1-0 win against relegation rivals Southampton in his first game in charge at Elland Road.

The first half saw a lot of the same qualities as the Jesse Marsch era as the Whites dominated the game but couldn’t take their chances, and could have been caught a couple of times, in an understandably tense atmosphere.

A more even second half looked like it might be turning against the home side, but the stand-out man on the day Junior Firpo sparked a huge release of tension when he collected Jack Harrison’s back heel and slipped a weak shot under Gavin Bazunu to collect a huge three points.

MOT Leeds News rates the Leeds United players out of 10 for their performances with the new manager in the dug-out for the first time.

Illan Meslier – 6

Evident that he has been instructed to play out from the back under the new manager and was found in possession well outside his area more than once. Wasn’t put under much pressure.

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Luke Ayling – 6

Poor first half saw him blast a good opportunity over the bar at one end and allow Stuart Armstrong in behind him at the other but the Saints man shot weakly wide. More on the ball afterwards in a reasonable second 45.

Robin Koch – 5

A couple of early suggestions of shakiness that have plagued him all season despite not being put under a huge amount of pressure throughout the game.

Max Wober – 6

The Whites definitely benefit from having him in the line-up so his recovery from injury was welcome but it wasn’t his finest game since the January arrival. Cut out Saints attacks with tough tackles on a few occasions but was also caught a couple of times before being bailed out by Firpo.

Junior Firpo – 9 Man of the Match

Impressive, especially given the struggles he has had as a Leeds United player. Very good first half in an attacking sense. Combined well with Gnonto down his flank and put a number of nice crosses in on the overlap which teammates should have done better with. Then looked more assured defensively than fans have become accustomed to as the tide of the game started to turn after the break. Early days but Gracia’s arrival might have kickstarted his Whites career. Would have been man of the match without his goal which, weak as it was, could prove so vital.

Tyler Adams – 6

Standard Adams kind of game as the USMNT captain snapped into challenges all around the park, but arguably didn’t have the control in possession required and gave away a number of fouls.

Weston McKennie – 7

Solid showing in the middle but created and wasted a wonderful opportunity for himself late in the first half, pressing high and gaining possession just outside the Saints box, but opted not to drive on and shoot and his pass behind Aaronson saw the chance go begging. Then put another inviting chance over the bar as he tried to lob into an empty net. Looks good on the ball and otherwise had a nice game, but could have made this result comfortable.

Jack Harrison – 5

Another weird game but did make a key contribution. Looked more comfortable back out wide, unsurprisingly, after the failed experiment of playing him at number 10, although he managed to block a close-range Aaronson header with his face. As with so often though he started with energy and intent then faded out of the game later on. Very lucky to stay on while both Gnonto and Aaronson were replaced but it paid off with his back-heel in the build up to the Leeds United goal.

Brenden Aaronson (off for Rutter ’75) – 7

Looked eager to take his opportunity back in the starting line-up, going close with a couple of early chances and putting Southampton under pressure down the right more than once. Industrious offensively and defensively but unable to make a telling contribution at any point.

Willy Gnonto (off for Summerville ’60) – 7

Opponents have now clearly marked him out as the danger man. Looked lively from the off, combining well with Firpo down the left and put an inviting ball in the air for a big early Bamford chance in one of a few threatening forays. On the receiving end of a heavy challenge just inside the hour which saw him replaced shortly after.

Patrick Bamford (off for Roca ’86) – 6

Similar story to so often for the Leeds United number nine. Battled against the centre-backs with little joy and performed his role as a target man as best he could without much impact. Gnonto gave him a shot at the perfect start but he couldn’t get proper contact with his head and was feeding on scraps for most of the game from then on.

SUBSTITUTES

Crysencio Summerville (on for Gnonto ’60) – 7

Injected some much-needed urgency as the game was starting to turn in the second half and played a role in the build up to the goal.

Georginio Rutter (on for Aaronson ’75) – 7

Marc Roca (on for Bamford ’86) – N/A

In other Leeds United news, the Whites are now in pole position to make a summer signing from Barcelona.

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