Leeds boss Jesse Marsch believes his side will “only get better” despite them being denied a third straight win by James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick in a hard-fought game with Southampton.
The Whites were bright in the early stages and took the lead at Elland Road through Jack Harrison’s poked finish after Saints keeper Fraser Forster had failed to claim a Raphinha cross.
But their recent progress was checked when England midfielder Ward-Prowse added another superb free-kick to his ever-growing showreel to give the visitors a point that their overall performance deserved, ending a run of three straight league defeats.
While making it clear that there is still much work to be done, Marsch was pleased with the performance, but not the point that leaves his side eight points above the bottom three.
“It was a real fight,” he told BBC Sport. “Southampton play intensely. I know the coach well and he has done a good job with his team.
“For the most part I thought we defended well. We were organised. Maybe in the last phase of the match we were unlucky not to find more.
“The group is confident. They are committed to playing the way I would like them to play. Our work every day is fantastic, I really like being here with this team.
“I think we are only going to grow and get better. In terms of tactically and how I want a game to look like, that was one of our better performances.”
United were certainly assisted by the return of captain Liam Cooper, who was impressive starting at centre-back, and England midfielder Kalvin Phillips, who came off the bench in the second half.
Both were playing their first matches since 5 December.
Lethal Ward-Prowse halts Leeds upward charge
There have been some superb free-kick takers in Premier League history, but Ward-Prowse is up there with the very best.
He is able to make a discipline others find difficult look startlingly simplistic.
Such is the England player’s reputation that as soon as Kyle Walker-Peters was crowded near the edge of the Leeds box by Luke Ayling, a worried murmur spread among the home fans. They knew what was coming.
Ward-Prowse duly delivered, curling the ball over the wall and past goalkeeper Illan Meslier to draw Saints level and ultimately earn them a point from an entertaining, end-to-end contest.
Last season, the Saints midfielder was the only player in the Premier League to score more than one goal direct from a free-kick – managing four. This season, he leads the way with three, one more than Newcastle’s Kieran Trippier.
Not that they really need the points, with their tally of 36 surely enough to keep them clear of any relegation trouble, but Saints will feel they could have taken all three.
But for a Meslier save and Stuart Dallas clearance off the line under pressure, Che Adams would have leveled before Ward-Prowse’s moment of magic.
Mohamed Elyounoussi also shot straight at Meslier from a good position in the box in the first half and they sparked some desperate last-ditch defending from the home side on a number of occasions after the break.
“It was an intense game and a bit ping pong in some moments,” said Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, whose side had lost their previous four matches.
“I think in the end we had the better chances to win it. We had the better parts of our game. It was a step forward for us that in such an intense game we had the chance to win it.
“Very important result after a tough run of tight games, to come back with a draw here.
“We had a good break, we were fresh today. We have eight games to go and it is a good chance to finish the season in the top 10 but every week is a good challenge.”
The visitors could easily have lost the game too, though, with Leeds comfortably the better side early on but unable to make clear openings count.
Diego Llorente headed wide from a corner, Dan James saw a shot saved, Mateusz Klich had a shot deflect wide and Harrison had the ball in the net, only for it to be ruled out for a shove on a defender by Rodrigo.
The home side kept going right until the end in hope of a late winner for the third game in a row, sending on Joe Gelhardt – whose 94th-minute goal gave them victory over Norwich before the international break.
But it was not to be for a third time and Marsch’s side were forced to settle for a point gained on their relegation rivals rather than the three that would have really given them some breathing space in the battle at the bottom.
They next travel to Watford for a game that will go a long way to deciding how deep into the season Leeds’ relegation concerns go.
- 2AylingBooked at 58minsSubstituted forStruijkdid 89′minutes
- 43klichSubstituted forPhillipsdid 66′minutes
- 20jamesSubstituted forGelhardtdid 59′minutes
- 2Walker Peters
- 8Ward Prowse
- 6RomeoSubstituted forS Armstrongdid 64′minutes
- 24ElyounoussiBooked at 63mins
- 18BrojaSubstituted forLongdid 90′minutes
- 10adamsSubstituted fortelladid 87′minutes
- 9To Armstrong
- 17S Armstrong
- Anthony Taylor
Match ends, Leeds United 1, Southampton 1.
Second Half ends, Leeds United 1, Southampton 1.
Attempt blocked. Shane Long (Southampton) right footed shot from the center of the box is blocked. Assisted by James Ward-Prowse with a cross.
Corner, Southampton. Conceded by Rodrigo.
Attempt missed. Jan Bednarek (Southampton) with an attempt from the center of the box misses to the right. Assisted by James Ward-Prowse with a cross following a set piece situation.
Foul by Liam Cooper (Leeds United).
Shane Long (Southampton) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Corner, Leeds United. Conceded by Jan Bednarek.
Rodrigo (Leeds United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Nathan Tella (Southampton).
Foul by Diego Llorente (Leeds United).
Shane Long (Southampton) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Substitute, Southampton. Shane Long replaces Armando Broja.
Substitution, Leeds United. Pascal Struijk replaces Luke Ayling.
Substitute, Southampton. Nathan Tella replaces Che Adams.
Attempt blocked. Raphinha (Leeds United) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Rodrigo.
Attempt missed. Valentino Livramento (Southampton) right footed shot from the right side of the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Stuart Armstrong with a cross.
Foul by Rodrigo (Leeds United).
Valentino Livramento (Southampton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Raphinha (Leeds United).
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