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Leeds’ Welsh Taffia Against the Coach With a Swansea Fanbase Could be a Final to Savour

By Graham Thomas

Wales manager Rob Page rarely talks about club allegiances but there must be a fair chance he will be wearing white this weekend.Page often stresses the need for his players to be playing at the highest level, in the Premier League, in order for them to be accustomed to the quality required for international football

On Sunday, four Welsh players – five if you include 17-year-old squad member Charlie Crew – will be in the Leeds United contingent at Wembley, where they take on Southampton in the Championship play-off final.

The Taffia – as some Leeds fans have inevitably dubbed them – will be a key part of the drama.

Ethan Ampadu and Dan James are contracted to be at Leeds next season come what may, while both Joe Rodon and Connor Roberts are more likely to have loan moves made permanent if they can make it to the Premier League.

Leeds finished the regular season three points and one place higher than Southampton and were more impressive in the play-off semi-finals where they overwhelmed Norwich City.

But when the sides met earlier in the season it was Saints who were superior – achieving a notable double, winning 3-1 in September at St. Mary’s before a 2-1 away win at Elland Road in May.

Both clubs wobbled during the run-in, undermining hopes they had of automatic promotion, but Southampton’s problems looked the more acute.

They lost three in a row in April, including a 5-0 thrashing away to champions Leicester City.

That sequence is probably why Leeds are favourites with DragonBet, who offer the Welsh-flavoured Yorkshiremen at 13/10 to win over 90 minutes and 4/6 to win the tie.

Southampton are 21/10 to go up after 90 minutes and 6/5 to do it after extra-time or penalties.

Ampadu has arguably been Leeds’ most influential player this season, a mature force in defence or midfield at the age of just 23.

The former Chelsea player started every Championship match – the only Leeds player to do so – and Sunday will be his 60th game of the season for club and country.

Not only is he durable, but he is showing plenty of leadership qualities off the field, too, including his upbeat assessment as to why Leeds fans should not worry about those two defeats to Southampton earlier in the campaign.

“If you were to flip it and we’d beaten Southampton twice this season that wouldn’t mean we’d win the game on Sunday,” said Ampadu.

“You can’t look at what’s happened in the season, all you can do is look at those games to see what we can improve. 

“I don’t think you can judge it off what’s gone on in the past, Sunday is Sunday. We set our target at the start of the season and it’s achievable on Sunday.

“We know it’s going to be difficult, Southampton are a very good team, very brave in the way they play.

“They want the ball a lot, but we’re working hard to put our game plan together and give ourselves the best chance.”

“Brave” or courageous is one of those buzz words, often used by Southampton manager Russell Martin, and familiar enough to Swansea City fans, the club he left a year ago to move to the south coast.

He uses the idea of bravery to describe his demand that players want the ball and strive to keep hold of it – often hitting risky passes rather than safer clearances that surrender possession.

It’s a policy that sometimes divided the fan base at Swansea and will be a stick to beat him with for some unconvinced traditionalists at Southampton if they fail to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt.

Yet, Martin is overwhelmingly a popular manager at St. Mary’s with most fans, who have enjoyed watching his team, just as so many Swans fans did for the two seasons previously.

“The people whose opinions I care about are those who know us and understand us,” he says. 

“The fact we have so many people coming from Swansea to Wembley means a lot to me. It shows we had some level of connection there that went beyond the results and football. I hope it will be the same here.”

Southampton scored three goals in their second leg victory over West Brom, while Leeds shoved four past Norwich.

Sunday’s final offers the promise of more goals and either a happy outcome for a quartet of Welsh players, or the perfect result for a manager who made a big impact in Wales.

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