EFL manager pinpoints key to Leeds United play-off glory amid 'outstanding' Archie Gray verdict

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Leeds United face Southampton in the Championship play-off final on Sunday.

Cheltenham Town manager Darrell Clarke believes the array of attacking talent at Leeds United should be enough to see them beat Southampton in Sunday’s Championship play-off final.

Leeds head to Wembley for the first time in 16 years this weekend and could be just 90 minutes away from an instant return to the Premier League. Daniel Farke’s side look to have bounced back from a poor end to the regular season and cruised past Norwich City, with Thursday’s 4-0 Elland Road thumping a message of intent.

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They face a Southampton side who finished three points behind them over 46 games but won both meetings, with two evenly matched teams set to produce a tight and tense finale. Victory will most likely be decided in small moments and Clarke believes the quality of Crysencio Summerville, Georginio Rutter and the rest should see Leeds edge it.

“It should be a cracking game, two excellent footballing teams with excellent individual players,” Clarke told the EFL All Access podcast. “I think it’s a very evenly matched game. I’m hoping it’s not one of those where two technical teams cancel each other out and it ends up being a boring draw. I’m sure they’ll get after each other and they’ve both got players who can hurt them at the top end.

“I think it’s two very evenly matched teams and I think it’s going to be some individual brilliance that wins the game if I’m honest with you. I don’t know why I just fancy Leeds to edge it. The Leeds manager’s experience from going up from that division. And it’s two teams we expected to be right up there this season. I just fancy Leeds might just have that little bit more excellence in forward areas to win the game.”

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An end to Leeds’ play-off hoodoo and promotion would cap off a dream debut season for Archie Gray, who only made his senior debut on the opening weekend against Cardiff but has since become a mainstay, whether it be at right-back or central midfield. The 18-year-old produced one of his best performances of the season against Norwich last week and looks unfazed by such big occasions.

Images after the win of Gray in the middle of a post-match huddle have done the rounds on social media, with the teenager already looking every bit the leader of a squad in which he is by far the youngest. Club captain Liam Cooper named the academy graduate as someone who has stepped up to the plate in recent weeks and Clarke is predicting a bright future.

“He was amazing on the day and has been amazing all season,” Clarke added of Gray. “I think with the pressure on such a young player - obviously with his dad’s Leeds connections - to perform the way he’s performed, you can see the Leeds fans love him, they absolutely adore one of their own. He was outstanding, getting up and down the flank, defensively solid on the day as well. The kid has got a massive future ahead of him.”