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Southampton’s Russell Martin proud after playoff final win

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LONDON — Southampton head coach Russell Martin lauded his team’s performance as they beat Leeds United 1-0 in the Championship playoff final on Sunday and said their promotion back to the Premier League will have him “crying my eyes out.”

A 24th minute goal from forward Adam Armstrong proved enough to secure Southampton’s return to the top division of English football in what is dubbed “the richest game in football.”

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Russell has experienced remarkable success in his first season since joining the south coast club from Swansea following their relegation at the end of the 2022-23 Premier League campaign.

His empathetic management style has helped him forge a close bond with his players and he expressed his joy at watching them lift the Championship playoff trophy on the balcony at Wembley.

“To watch them from the pitch celebrate that together is, yeah, it will live with me forever,” Martin told a post-match news conference. “As a group of players and young men, they’ve been incredible.”

“What they’ve done and how much they’ve grown together in terms of spirit and togetherness — I thought that would probably be the toughest bit at the start of the season when I saw how much the group had been fractured and not together and all that stuff after relegation.

“So, to watch that, to watch them enjoy that, to watch them show the love they show for each other every day and how they’ve been this week, the feeling they’ve had and how together they are has been amazing.

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“And I hope we can keep as many of that group together as we possibly can. I said to them after: ‘This is football and it’ll be the last time we’re all together as a group because things change. People will move on.’

“So, for them to really, really enjoy it as I hope they’re doing, yeah, I’ll probably end up in bed alone tonight, crying my eyes out and feel nothing but love for them.”

Martin also thanked Southampton’s owners and the club’s former director of football Jason Wilcox who championed his appointment before leaving to join Manchester United in April.

“I feel immense pride in what we’ve achieved, but I feel grateful to the owners who have given me the opportunity in the first place. [And] Jason [Wilcox], who had a good day himself here yesterday and is no longer there,” the 38-year-old head coach said.

“But I feel like I wasn’t a sexy appointment for Southampton Football Club coming in and they were brave enough to give me the opportunity and hopefully we have repaid them with a day that they’ll remember forever and it’s given me one of the best days of my career for sure.”

Meanwhile, Leeds boss Daniel Farke was left to rue the lack of attacking threat his team carried during a defeat that consigns them to another season in the second tier.

“Obviously we’re suffering a lot in this moment and deeply disappointed because once you come so close after overall a terrific season with 90 points,” Farke said.

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“[We had] really good playoffs overall then was a half final [semifinal], played two legs against Norwich [City]… Today we can’t really say that we are the worst side in this final and to lose this final hurts a lot.”

Leeds have never been promoted via the playoffs, falling short in six of their campaigns, with Sunday’s defeat setting a new record for the number of finals lost by a club (four).

Farke was left to rue his side’s lacklustre display in front of goal as his usually potent attackers failed to find a way behind the Southampton back line.

“You have to say Southampton, first they defended really well and they were a bit more clinical than we were. [They were] a bit more effective and it was the reason we lost the game,” Farke said.

“Again, congratulations to them and all the best in the Premier league, but as you can imagine, it hurts a lot if you’re just one step away from being allowed to celebrate and then you have to travel, so disappointed back. Yes, it hurts at the moment.”



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