Southampton unable to do a Leeds United as Martin’s infuriating side eventually get the job done

Lewis Oldham
Southampton vs West Brom
Ryan Manning and Adam Armstrong celebrate as Southampton score.

Southampton were unable to copy Leeds United’s demolition job, but they were still far too good for West Brom as they progressed to the play-off final…


Of the two Championship play-off semi-final first legs last Sunday, West Brom vs Southampton was slightly more entertaining than Norwich City vs Leeds United, but there was not much in it. 

Leeds United ensured there wasn’t a dull rematch at Elland Road as they demolished Norwich City 4-0 to advance to the final from a tie that has since cost head coach David Wagner his job at Carrow Road after he had spent the majority of the 2023/24 campaign on the plank.

Having missed out on automatic promotion to Ipswich Town after massively underperforming during the run-in, Leeds United’s top stars returned to form at an opportune moment at Elland Road as they made an almighty statement and reaffirmed their status as favourites to win the Championship play-offs.

A day after a far superior opponent found out Norwich City, West Brom were given the same treatment (albeit to a lesser extent) on Friday night at St Mary’s against Southampton.

The Championship top four have been in a league of their own this season, with no other promotion hopeful capable of coming close to matching their brilliance. And that was only emphasised further by Norwich being unable to live with Leeds United’s high-octane football on Thursday evening.

While Leeds came out with a purpose and showed no sign of feeling the effects of play-off nerves, the same cannot be said for Southampton against West Brom.

In the first-half, Southampton dominated possession as they often do, but their build-up play was plodding and lacked urgency, as they did not punish West Brom for being caught out on the ball at alarming regularity.

West Brom’s game plan was pretty evident from the get-go, with an over-reliance on causing Southampton problems through counter-attacks and set-pieces. But Carlos Corberan’s side (as Norwich were at Elland Road) were well off the pace and poor in possession as the pressure on their defence grew steadily.

If West Brom did not sharpen up after the interval, it was only going to be a matter of time before they were punished for one of their lapses in play and Southampton did make them pay for one of their many errors in the 49th minute.

This came as an attempted pass from Grady Diangana in the middle of the pitch went straight to Saints star Will Smallbone, who advanced upfield for a speedy breakaway along with loanee David Brooks.

After Brooks returned the ball to Smallbone, the centre-midfielder did the rest by emphatically firing the ball into the roof of the net past helpless goalkeeper Alex Palmer.

The tie was crying out for a goal to open it up and it is a huge shame that this elusive opener did not come sooner. But the timing of Smallbone’s goal meant we were at least treated to one notable half out of a possible four as West Brom’s increased desperation made for an improved finish to the second leg.

The Baggies huffed and puffed, but Southampton always looked the more threatening side of the two. After they were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty, Championship goal machine Adam Armstrong found the net with a typically clinical finish as he grabbed his 22nd goal of the season to make it 2-0 with ten minutes to go.

Any hope of a late West Brom fightback ended a few minutes later as Southampton were awarded an overdue penalty for a foul on Ryan Manning and Armstrong smashed the ball home (now 23 goals for the season) to settle the tie in his side’s favour to send the hosts to Wembley.

👉 Championship play-off teams ranked on how much we’d like them in the Premier League
👉 Final Championship team of the season: Leeds, Leicester quartet included but Szmodics misses out
👉 Hull City good vibes threatened as Ilicali copies Birmingham mistake, Rosenior becomes hot free agent

For West Brom (whose supporters were treated to a late consolation by Cedric Kipre in their eventual 3-1 aggregate defeat), promotion via the play-offs has proved too significant a step at this point of their development.

While Norwich’s sacking of Wagner has widely been accepted as a reasonable decision, the same could not be said of West Brom if they part ways with Corberan, who has arguably over-delivered this season amid a lack of investment which will only increase in the coming months as ambitious American owner Shilen Patel takes steps to eventual guide the Baggies back to the Premier League.

Next season will be equally difficult with the relegated Premier League sides likely to dominate once again, but West Brom are onto a good thing with Corberan and would be foolish to copy Birmingham City by axing their manager in pursuit of a short-term boost.

📣TO THE COMMENTS! Who will win the Championship play-off final? Join the debate here

Southampton were far from sparkling across the two legs and Russell Martin’s teams continue to infuriate with his possession-based style allowing his side to overwhelm teams when at their free-flowing best. But they are equally likely to flatter to deceive and it was mostly the case of the latter across the two legs against West Brom.

With Leeds seemingly rediscovering their confidence just in time for the play-off final, Daniel Farke’s side will be better positioned to punish Southampton after West Brom never looked like doing such a thing in either game.

After McKenna-ball robbed us of a final-day decider for promotion between Leeds and Southampton at Elland Road, the third and fourth-best teams in the Championship this season will do battle for a return to the Premier League at Wembley instead.

Most Championship play-off finals in recent times have been damp squibs, but Leeds and Southampton deliver goals when they meet so neutrals *should* be treated to a rare thriller in the supposed richest game in football.

READ NEXT: Saints, West Brom beware as Leeds United stars show up and outclass Norwich to reach Wembley