Leeds United credit debate on hold after Javi Gracia Elland Road discovery - Graham Smyth's Verdict

Javi Gracia already had an inkling but now he knows for certain that Elland Road is the place to be when Leeds United win.
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A period of 112 days separated this club from its last Premier League victory but beating Southampton after what Gracia described as a single day together gives him optimism for what they can achieve.

How much credit Leeds United get for beating Southampton, a team you have to beat to have any right to Premier League status, is perhaps a debate for another day because the job was as simple as Gracia's. He's got to keep Leeds up, they had to beat the Saints.

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The Saints were poor and so too was the game for large parts, facts that did not matter one jot at full-time as Junior Firpo, the unlikeliest of heroes, pumped his fists to elicit guttural roars from the South Stand, but facts all the same.

Comfortably the worst side to take on the Whites this season, arguably in all competitions, Southampton's plan was difficult to decipher. When Roméo Lavia, their best operator by a distance, got on the ball he would look up to see white shirts. The Saints had no width and even the last resort - sticking it in the air for 6ft 7ins Paul Onuachu - didn't work, with Robin Koch outjumping the giant time and time again.

Gracia's plan for Leeds was simple but ultimately effective. He set them up in a 4-4-2, Brenden Aaronson acting as a second striker in support of Patrick Bamford. The wingers played as wingers, Willy Gnonto and Jack Harrison hugging the touchlines to give Leeds proper width when they had the ball. Full-backs Firpo and Luke Ayling got up in support too, that quartet looking to get balls into the box and bodies to the byline.

There was patience in possession. If the pass wasn't on, the instruction was evidently to hold onto it and shift the focus of the attack from left to right or vice versa. It wasn't Bielsaball, it lacked quality and an incisive instinct at the end of phases of play, but nor was it the hasty, hurried stuff of more recent times and what it did was deprive Southampton of possession with which to do much of anything. It looked suspiciously like Leeds were controlling a game.

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What they just couldn't do, with all that possession, was create something clear cut to show their superiority on the scoreline. There were promising moments, half-chances like the two-on-one break for Weston McKennie and Aaronson, the former's pass behind the latter spurning the opportunity. McKennie sent a shot well over, with Gavin Bazunu well off his line. Bamford connected with a cross and spooned the ball into the keeper's hands. Harrison whipped one wide. Yet at half-time all the promise could yield was a goalless stalemate.

PURE BLISS - Leeds United beat Southampton thanks to Junior Firpo's first ever Premier League goal, in Javi Gracia's first game in charge of the Whites. Pic: Bruce RollinsonPURE BLISS - Leeds United beat Southampton thanks to Junior Firpo's first ever Premier League goal, in Javi Gracia's first game in charge of the Whites. Pic: Bruce Rollinson
PURE BLISS - Leeds United beat Southampton thanks to Junior Firpo's first ever Premier League goal, in Javi Gracia's first game in charge of the Whites. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

After the break Southampton enjoyed their best spell of possession and ended it with a cross to the back post, Firpo blocking Onuachu's route.

It was at this point that Gracia made his first change and a big call it was. Off came Gnonto, who had just won his latest duel with Stuart Armstrong and a free-kick in a dangerous position to boot, and on came Crysencio Summerville.

Fresh legs were all the new manager was after, seeing nothing wrong with any individual performance, yet he almost got so much more when Aaronson picked out Summerville in the area and he shaped to shoot, a defender blocking the effort and the headlines.

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Summerville tried again, dancing to the byline on the left and shooting, right footed, straight into Bazunu's arms.

Once more he went to the byline, turning out of the corner and defensive pressure to somehow thread a pass to Harrison, whose backheel put Firpo in space and the left-back's right-foot finish, his first ever Premier League goal, brought the house down.

For a club in any goal off any backside to claim any kind of win territory, it was manna from heaven and Elland Road lost itself in a moment of sheer bliss. The rendition of Marching on Together that followed was thunderous, a fanbase rediscovering how good it feels to celebrate together, a new manager discovering how good they sound. “I could see before coming, but to live it at home or to live it inside [the stadium] is different,” he said later.

It could have got even better - Summerville raced in on a two-on-one alongside Harrison, backed himself and shot agonisingly wide - but it didn't need to because there was little danger of it getting any worse. The closest Southampton came to spoiling the party was a corner that Armel Bella-Kotchap met, only to direct out to the far side for a Leeds throw.

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The rest of the final minutes were played in the right area, Leeds once more in control and well worth the three points at the final whistle.

Firpo whipped up the crowd at one end of the pitch, Max Wober and Luke Ayling did the same at the other and Elland Road, for the first time in a long time, was united in joy.

In the cold light of the post game press conference Gracia called it just a step, but an important one, a necessary one. If it's true that you don't get a second chance to make a first impression, Gracia could do little more, with a team struggling for confidence and bereft of results, than mastermind a win and a clean sheet on his managerial debut.

All the fans require from now until the summer is what Gracia and his team gave them on Saturday. Just score and win. Clean sheets will make life easier but the results will be king. All they want is to stay up.

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Gracia's commitment to being at Elland Road was highlighted by CEO Angus Kinnear in the matchday programme, in a favourable comparison with other candidates for the job - an interesting line given the club's lingering hopes of possibly attracting one of those in the summer.

Between now and then however, the reward for Gracia, if he shows himself to be the right man for the job, is Elland Road itself. When the going is good, there are few better places to be.