Southampton jolt to the system gave Leeds United players a taste of what's to come at Elland Road on Sunday

The noise generated by 8,000 Saints fans was a jolt to the system and a taste of what is to come this weekend for Leeds United.

Friday, 21st May 2021, 4:43 am
WELCOME BACK - Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford relished the return of fans at St Mary's, where he had a warm welcome and some stick. Pic: Getty

How it felt and sounded at St Mary’s was so closer to real football than any of Leeds’ previous games this season, or any that followed the 2019/20 season suspension.

It was a vast improvement on what was experienced at Stamford Bridge, back when 2,000 Chelsea fans were granted access to the game thanks to London’s Tier 2 status.

There were no hairs standing on the backs of any necks, just a mild headache from the high-pitched cooing that heralded each of Diego Llorente’s touches. It was an attempt to recreate the dramatic sound he himself had made after feeling an early challenge and it persisted throughout the game. The problem wasn’t so much that noise, but the absence of much else from what was a small number of home fans rattling around inside a big stadium.

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On Tuesday night, a crowd four times the size made 10 times the atmosphere, generating feelings of urgency for a home side that were clearly fired up from the off.

This time the hairs on the back of the neck at least twitched, as the home fans serenaded their team just before kick-off.

Alas, there was no reward for their vocal backing, but Leeds definitely took something from the presence of supporters. It has been a while since Patrick Bamford has enjoyed those little post-goal interactions.

It wasn’t quite Luton away, when his celebratory run across the front of the Kenilworth Road Stand earned him an animated welcome from a youngster well versed in universally understood gestures, but there was a just enough needle to make it feel a bit more like old times.

“I enjoyed winding up the fans again after I scored,” he said.

“They’re probably nice fans. All I did was smile at them and they started giving me abuse so I put my thumbs up at them.”

It was all so friendly to begin with, as well.

“When we were warming up to do our last bit before we go in to get ready to come out again for the start of the game, we do the sprints in the corner and their fans were actually clapping us and Kalvin was milking it - waving back and clapping them. It was nice even though they weren’t our fans.

“I think everyone was just buzzing to be there.”

The warm welcome dissipated at kick-off but Bamford and anyone who misses football’s proper soundtrack expected nothing less.

“The noise difference is massive,” he said. “It was so much better having the fans cheering even when they were trying to get behind Southampton towards the end when it was still 1-0.

Hearing that roar even though it wasn’t for us was just nice, especially the last 10 minutes. If the fans weren’t there they would’ve obviously tried to get back in the game but it wouldn’t have been as tense.”

On Sunday the roar will be for Bamford and Leeds. We’re guaranteed an atmosphere that will make it all so much more enjoyable, even for those watching from home. The incentive to give those present reason to roar will be huge for any player in white.

It won’t be the same as the first game in a packed Elland Road next season, when hairs will stand, spines shiver and tears flow but, as Saints fans proved, it will be better and not just for the noise. Watching people going through turnstiles, taking their seats, buying food ahead of kick-off and yo-yoing up and down as chances come and go, those are the sights the game has been missing.

At 4pm at Elland Road on Sunday, at long last, Leeds won’t be marching on alone.