Football News

Southampton make immediate Premier League return after Adam Armstrong decides Leeds contest at Wembley

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 17:15, 26 May 2024

Southampton is once again able to call themselves a Premier League club after winning the richest game in world football.

Russell Martin’s men triumphed 1-0 to win today’s Championship play-off final at Wembley, guaranteeing the Saints at least £170m even if they finish bottom of England’s top-flight next season.

Both teams progressed into the showdown after wins over West Brom and Norwich. They were also looking for an immediate Premier League return. This was the third time two relegated teams from the previous campaign had competed in a second-tier play-off final. Previously, Leicester City beat Crystal Palace 2-1 in 1995-96, and West Ham defeated Blackpool by the same score in 2011-12.

Adam Armstrong was likely to be Southampton’s key goal threat, having come into this game scoring 23 league goals this season (including playoffs), the most by a Southampton player since Rickie Lambert in 2011-12 (27).

The former Blackburn striker followed the script by scoring in the 24th minute after receiving a superb pass from Will Smallbone and slotting it into the far corner of Illan Meslier’s goal. His deadlock-breaking goal means Armstong has netted five goals in his last four starts against Leeds, including four in three games this season.

It also meant the Saints registered their 100th goal this term, last notching a century of goals in the 2009-10 season (112).

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“I saw the space in behind and I knew if I kept it low and hard across goal it would go in. It was a nice one,” he said afterwards. “It means everything. The gaffer came in during pre-season and put a marker down with what they wanted. This is why we’re footballers. What a way to win.”

Leeds exerted much effort but could not overcome Southampton’s determination, even though Daniel James struck the crossbar in the final stages. But, they shouldn’t have been here.

Daniel Farke’s side missed out on automatic promotion to Leicester City and Ipswich Town after winning one of their last six games, a 4-3 win at Middlesbrough, and lost four of those outings, including at home to Southampton on the final day.

Leeds’ poor play-off record:

  • 1986/87: Lost in the Division Two (now Championship) final over two legs to Charlton Athletic. This was before the final was played as a one-off at Wembley.
  • 2005/06: Lost in the Championship final to Watford, 3-0 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
  • 2007/08: Lost in the League One final to Doncaster at Wembley.
  • 2008/09: Lost in the League One semi-finals to Millwall.
  • 2018/19: Lost in the Championship semi-finals to Derby County.
  • 2023/24: Lost in the Championship final to Southampton at Wembley.

“It’s a disappointing day but I hope they stick together with us and are prepared to go again,” Farke told Sky Sports.

“It’s a new feeling for me as in the last three years in this league, two times I’ve been promoted so today I was one step away from being promoted again. I have to deal with it but I’ll go again.

“Today they were just one per cent better.”

Southampton appointed Martin as their manager after the club was relegated to the Championship last summer. Martin left Swansea to take up his new position, having managed in South Wales since August 2021. This ended a dispute between the two clubs over compensation.

The former Scotland international led Swansea to within three points of a Championship playoff berth in the season before. However, he was tempted to join a club that had finished at the bottom of the Premier League after a campaign that featured three managers: Ralph Hasenhüttl, Nathan Jones, and Rubén Sellés.

Southampton, stumble in the closing stages of the regular season, can look forward to rubbing shoulders with Erling Haaland, Mohamed Salah, Cole Palmer, and Bukayo Saka, while Leeds will have to spend another campaign in England’s second division.

Furthermore, the Saints — who ended their five-game losing run at Wembley in all competitions — have been promoted to the English top flight for the fourth time (also 1966, 1978, 2012). This is their first promotion from any Football League division via the play-offs and Martin feels he’s validated the brave decision by the powers that be to appoint him.

“I could get sacked tomorrow so maybe not! [laughs] I feel emotional and overwhelmed by the love and support I’ve had over the past nine or 10 months especially in the tougher times,” he told Sky Sports.

“The support from the board, I had to validate their decision and justify being handed the chance.

“I’m so pleased for them because it wasn’t an exciting appointment. I’d finish 10th with Swansea, had a very clear way of doing things at MK Dons so for them to take me on was really brave.

“The team have been so brave and I’m grateful and proud of them. I did enjoy some of it. I enjoyed watching the players grow and I absolutely love that group of players. What we’ve asked them to do is not easy.”