Russell Martin happy to repay Southampton's faith with Premier League return

Scottish manager was not a popular appointment but a 1-0 win over Leeds in Championship play-off final sealed an immediate return to the Premier League for the Saints

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Russell Martin said he was happy to repay the faith shown in him by Southampton after the Saints secured a return to the Premier League with victory over Leeds United in Sunday's Championship play-off final.

Adam Armstrong's clinical first half strike sealed a 1-0 win against Leeds at Wembley, sealing a return to England's top tier following their relegation in 2022.

The win went some way to justifying Martin's appointment, whose arrival at St Mary's last June was greeted with little fanfare.

In his first season on England's south coast, Russell has revitalised a team that was shattered by their bottom of the Premier League finish 12 months ago.

Winning promotion will finally silence the doubters who questioned whether a manager who led Swansea to a mid-table position in the Championship in 2023 was the right man for the job.

Just three years ago, former Scotland and Norwich defender Martin was managing Milton Keynes Dons in the third tier, but now he can look forward to pitting his wits against Pep Guardiola, Mikel Arteta and company.

The 38-year-old paid tribute to Southampton's owners and former director of football Jason Wilcox, who brought him to the club but left to join Manchester United last month.

"I just feel grateful to the owners for giving me the opportunity in the first place, for Jason. I feel immense pride in what we have achieved," Martin said.

"I feel like it wasn't a sexy appointment for Southampton Football Club, me coming in, but they were brave enough to give me the opportunity and hopefully we have repaid them with a day they will remember forever.

"It has given me one of the best days of my career for sure, so yeah I just feel nothing but gratitude and a lot of love for the people I've worked with all year."

Southampton had a rollercoaster ride to Wembley, losing four in a row in September before Martin oversaw a club record 25-match unbeaten run.

A poor end to the campaign, including a 5-0 loss at champions Leicester City, threatened to derail their promotion bid, but they regrouped to beat West Bromwich Albion in the play-off semi-finals.

Armstrong's fine finish in the Wembley sunshine meant Martin could savour success for the third time this season against Leeds boss Daniel Farke, who was in charge at Norwich when the defender's contract was acrimoniously terminated in 2018.

"We scored a really nice goal and it is something the guys work on a lot in terms of the way it built up," Martin said.

"I didn't want us to defend as long as we did in the last 25 minutes, but with the tension in the game, I understand that because it's a big occasion."

Defeat for Leeds consigned them to more play-off heartache as their fourth defeat in the final consigned them to a second season outside the top-flight.

It was a bitter blow for Farke's team, who were pipped to automatic promotion by Ipswich Town after squandering their lead late in the season.

Leeds must now face up to the stark reality of potentially selling several key players to make up for missing out on the £140 million ($177 million) windfall that comes with promotion to the Premier League.

"Yes, as you can imagine it couldn't be worse. Obviously we're suffering a lot in this moment," Farke said.

"I can't really say we are the worst side in this final and to lose this final hurts a lot.

"We are very disappointed, but I also don't want to miss to say first of all congratulations to Southampton. They defended really well and were pretty effective."

Updated: May 27, 2024, 9:48 AM