Southampton edge out Leeds to win promotion back to the Premier League

Saints return to top-flight at first opportunity as Armstrong's goal settles high-stakes Wembley clash

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Southampton returned to the Premier League at the first time of asking after Adam Armstrong's first-half goal earned his team a 1-0 win over Leeds United in the Championship play-off final at Wembley on Sunday.

Saints, relegated 12 months ago, had done the double over their fellow play-off finalists in the regular season and Armstrong had been on target on both occasions.

History repeated itself as Armstrong was able to find the bottom corner midway through the first half for his 24th goal of the season. It proved enough to send Russell Martin’s team back into the top flight.

It means Leeds, who went close late on when substitute Dan James hit the crossbar, suffered more play-off pain with this a sixth consecutive time they have failed to go up via that route.

Martin, 38, who will manage in the Premier League for the first time, said: "I feel really emotional and overwhelmed by the support I have had over the last nine or 10 months, especially in the tough times.

"For them to give me the job in the first place, I felt like I had to do this to justify and validate it so I'm so pleased for them because it wasn't an exciting appointment for them, I finished 10th at Swansea and had a really clear way of doing things at MK [Dons], and now here.

"So to take me on was really brave. The team have been so great and I'm really grateful and proud of them.

"It's not about me now, it's about them, I really believe that. They were trying to drag me up there [to lift the trophy] but they deserve it."

Leeds and Southampton were unchanged after convincing semi-final second leg victories. Success in this fixture – dubbed the richest match in football – would be worth an estimated £140million according to analysts Deloitte.

Leeds were quick out the traps and Archie Gray and Wilfried Gnonto had early shots saved by Alex McCarthy, who had not started a league fixture this season for Saints until last month. But back came Southampton as Will Smallbone had a curled free-kick parried wide by Illan Meslier. They soon took the lead.

Flynn Downes was able to find Smallbone, who played in Armstrong and he drilled into the bottom corner.

The door remained ajar for Leeds all the way until the closing stages, and they came within a whisker of an 84th-minute leveller when Georginio Rutter set up James, but he smashed a half-volley against the crossbar.

James needed treatment soon after before he picked himself up and let fly again in stoppage-time, but McCarthy saved well to ensure Southampton join Ipswich and Leicester in next season’s Premier League.

Leeds boss Daniel Farke said: "Congratulations to Southampton. They were able to be effective today. Defended really, really well during the whole game.

"That's football. We had more possession, more shots, more expected goals. Dominated the game in many spells but their defending was a little bit more effective than us.

"It's always important to be good in both boxes. We started the game totally on the front foot and had many good situations but in the final third, we were not that committed to the attack.

"On this level, when you play in a final, you have to be spot on. It's a bit written in the stars, sometimes it's not meant to be. It's a difficult day for us. A day of suffering but that's football. You have to get on with it."

Updated: May 27, 2024, 9:54 AM