Four Pivotal Matches From The Regular Season That Helped Southampton Secure Promotion – Opinion

It may not have been as high-scoring as some would have predicted, but yesterday’s Championship play-off final saw Southampton edge past Leeds United to return to the Premier League. 

The Saints may have finished below their rivals in the regular season, but the way they were able to manage the final and reduce their opposition to only two shots on target, saw them prevail.

The club will undoubtedly now be planning for the future, with their first signing already through the door, and their retained list expected to be released very soon, for the fans, it is also a time to reminisce on a season that saw Russel Martin’s men play more than 50 matches.

Here are the four matches that proved pivotal in Southampton’s pursuit of promotion glory…

Sheffield Wednesday (A) – 2-1 – 4th August 2023

Sheffield Wednesday may have struggled at the start of the campaign, but that cannot take away from the importance of this opening-day victory by the Saints. When Russel Martin was appointed as the new manager last summer, many questions surrounded how his side would set up and whether he would retain his possession-based philosophy. At the final whistle, those questions were answered.

His side not only managed to beat the Owls reasonably comfortably, but they also showed the rest of the division exactly how they aimed to play for the rest of the season. With 80% possession and 930 accurate passes, records were being broken from day one. This match was therefore pivotal for the way it set the tone for the rest of the year.

Leeds United (H) – 3-1 – 30th September 2023

It is of course easy to simply include any match against their play-off final opposition in this list, but there is no denying that this match was key for Southampton’s campaign. Coming into this game, the home side were in a rut, having lost their four previous matches, conceding 12 in that run, and scoring only two. Questions were beginning to be asked on whether Martin’s style was actually going to work in the long term.

However, those doubts were certainly reduced with this emphatic victory over a side that many would have tipped for automatic promotion at the time. An Adam Armstrong brace and a third from Will Smallbone in the first half ensured that any hopes for a comeback by Daniel Farke’s men in the second half would be out of reach. This win then turned out to be the start of an unbeaten run that lasted 22 league games.

Swansea City (H) – 5-0 – 26th December 2023

For any English Football League side, no matter which division they are in or where they are within that division, the Boxing Day fixture is always a key game. For Southampton, that was just as true. Not only was this match in the middle of the busy festive schedule, but it was also the first time that Russel Martin would face his former club.

With all of these narratives surrounding this match, it would not have seemed too surprising to see concentration levels drop, and the unbeaten run potentially come to an end. Instead, fans at St Mary’s Stadium witnessed a thumping victory, with the Welsh outfit brushed aside in emphatic fashion.

West Bromwich Albion (A) – 2-0 – 16th February 2024

Back in February, the Saint’s lengthy unbeaten run came to an end with a disappointing display against mid-table side Bristol City. When that happened, it would have been easy for Southampton’s season to quickly collapse and follow up on that loss with a number of poor results. However, their resilience showed as they immediately bounced back with a victory away at The Hawthorns.

Goals by David Brooks and Ryan Fraser saw the away side come away as comfortable victors. However, that game will be more remembered for Carlos Corberan’s dubious red card. Although this did not end up being the start of another long unbeaten run for the away side, it did show their immediate ability to shrug off a poor outing and return to the form they had shown up to that point.

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