Russell Martin

Uncompromising Russell Martin rewards Southampton with promotion back to Premier League

Southampton are back in the Premier League after Adam Armstrong's first-half goal was enough to beat Leeds 1-0 in the Sky Bet Championship play-off final at Wembley.

In a game of few chances, the match was decided by the ruthless Armstrong taking his tally for the season to 24 by latching on to a through-ball from Will Smallbone and firing across Illan Meslier into the bottom corner.

Adam Armstrong
Adam Armstrong celebrates his goal at Wembley

The closest Leeds came to an equaliser was when substitute Daniel James hit the crossbar with a speculative effort late on, with Southampton maintaining control for the vast majority of the encounter to close out victory.

Saints, relegated along with Leeds and Leicester last season, join the Foxes in securing an immediate return to the top flight, where they will be joined by Ipswich.

Uncompromising Russ rewarded

Russell Martin

Promotion is vindication both for manager Russell Martin's uncompromising philosophy, and for Southampton having placed their faith in the then-37 year old last summer.

Martin has always been obdurate in his view that any team he coaches must be uncompromising in their willingness to play possession-based football, leading to plenty of heavy defeats, individual errors and criticism of his perceived stubbornness on the way to what is quickly developing into a phenomenally successful managerial career.

However, his appointment drew a mixed response, as while he received plaudits for his style of play, neither MK Dons or Swansea - his previous clubs - competed above mid-table in their respective divisions.

Doubts were always likely to remain until the former Norwich and Scotland defender was able to achieve something of substance.

Tasked with rebuilding a Southampton team who had just experienced a disastrous campaign that saw them finish bottom of the Premier League with just 25 points, Martin oversaw a club record 25-game unbeaten run from September to firmly place them in promotion contention.

After missing out on the top two, they showed pragmatism to secure a goalless draw in the opening leg of their play-off semi-final with West Brom before breezing past them at St Mary's.

And then, for the third time this season, Southampton were able to suffocate Leeds in midfield, on this occasion in the highest stakes game of all, allowing them to return to the top flight without as much as a scratch.

Enough, surely, to win over the last of the remaining Martin doubters.

Saints' bigger problem may be holding on to him given the managerial merry-go-round currently taking place both in the Premier League and across Europe.

Farke outfoxed again

Daniel Farke

As for Leeds and Daniel Farke, they will be left rueing an inability to test Southampton beyond the opening 20 minutes at Wembley.

Prior to Armstrong's goal it had been the Whites who were in the ascendancy. After it, they wilted.

Though if we're being honest, this was not the first time this happened, which is why it will leave plenty of question marks over the future of the Leeds United manager.

Despite securing 90 points and third place - usually enough for a top two finish - Farke will rightly face criticism for his inability to tactically alter the outcome of matches - brought more starkly into focus by the ability, and adaptability, of counterpart Martin to do exactly that: it is no surprise Southampton won all three fixtures with Leeds this season.

Several of the Yorkshire club's top earners are now expected to be sold this summer.

It will be a very different challenge trying to escape the Championship next season, whoever's job that is.

More from Sporting Life

Safer gambling

We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.

If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.

Further support and information can be found at and

Like what you've read?


Sporting Life
Join for free!
Access to exclusive features all for FREE - No monthly subscription fee
Race Replays
My stable horse tracker
giftOffers and prize draws
newsExclusive content