Russell Martin admitted he was "overwhelmed by the love and support" from Southampton, after guiding the Saints back into the Premier League.

Martin's side sealed their return to the top flight at the first attempt, with Adam Armstrong's strike enough to seal a 1-0 victory over Leeds United in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

The former Swansea City boss, who replaced Ruben Selles at St Mary's last June, secured his first promotion as a manager, having also done so five times as a player.

And Martin fought back tears as he reflected on his achievement.

"I feel really emotional, I feel overwhelmed by the love and support I've had over the past nine or 10 months - especially in the tougher times," he told Sky Sports. "The team have been so brave, and I'm really proud of them.

"I've enjoyed watching the team grow, and watching the players grow. I absolutely love that group of players. I'm so pleased for them because what we've asked them to do is not easy."

Meanwhile, Southampton skipper Jack Stephens paid tribute to his team-mates, who gave him his "best feeling in football".

"I'm so proud to be captain of this club. I'm so proud of the boys today, I think they've been unbelievable," the defender told Sky Sports. "I think we probably didn't play our best game today, but we showed a different side.

"A few people have doubted us over this season. Can we defend? Can we dig in? I think we really showed that today. The feeling I've got now is the best feeling I've ever had in football. Honestly, I'm just so emotional."

Matchwinner Armstrong added: "I don't know what to say. It's what we've been working for all year, we know how good the Championship has been this year.

"What a way to go up! I saw the space in behind [for the goal] and I knew if I put it across goal it was going to go in, so it was a nice one.

"It means everything. The gaffer and his staff came in in pre-season and put a marker down of what they wanted to see, and look at this. This is why we're footballers, we want to be involved in the biggest games, what a way to win."

Southampton secured an immediate return to the Premier League after Adam Armstrong was the hero in a 1-0 victory over Leeds United in the Championship play-off final.

Saints' top scorer Armstrong provided the decisive first-half strike at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, with his 24th league goal of the season sending Russell Martin’s side straight back into England's top division.

The pair had scored a combined 197 goals this campaign, but just the one finish was enough to settle what was only the third second-tier play-off final between two sides relegated the previous year.

Southampton join Leicester City and Ipswich Town in winning top-flight promotion, while Leeds – who hit the crossbar through Daniel James late on – must prepare for at least another campaign in the Championship.

Daniel Farke's team settled the quicker of the two sides, who were separated by just three points during the regular season, but with little success in front of goal.

Archie Gray – the youngest Leeds player to appear at Wembley – drilled just wide early on, while Wilfried Gnonto shot straight at Alex McCarthy.

However, Southampton struck the all-important opener after 24 minutes, somewhat against the run of play.

Armstrong beat the offside trap after Ethan Ampadu's mindless charge out from the back, latching onto Will Smallbone’s throughball before neatly slotting past Illan Meslier.

A shoulder injury forced a distraught David Brooks off soon after but the Saints went close to doubling their lead just before the break as Meslier parried away Armstrong’s drive.

Crysencio Summerville curled just wide from the edge of the box within four minutes of the restart as Leeds sought an equaliser.

Substitute James rattled the crossbar with a right-footed effort six minutes from time and was again denied by McCarthy, as Southampton held on to seal their return back to the big time.

One Armstrong finish, one giant step for Saints

Southampton were appearing in their first-ever play-off final, and they had lost on eight of their 10 previous visits to Wembley, including each of the last five.

However, the Saints stopped the rot with a little help from a promotion expert – boss Martin achieved five of them as a player, and this was his third to the top flight overall.

Armstrong's cool finish proved the difference; his 24 goals this term is the most by a Southampton player in a single season since Rickie Lambert struck 27 in 2011-12 – their last promotion-winning campaign.

It was also the Saints' 100th – and most important – goal of the season; their first time reaching triple figures since the 2009-10 season under Alan Pardew.

More play-off pain for Leeds

Leeds have now appeared in the English Football League play-offs on six occasions, failing to secure promotion in each of those instances.

The omens did not look good when they fell behind considering not since Cardiff City in 2010 has a team failed to get promoted after opening the scoring in a Championship play-off final.

It is just over 16 years since their third play-off final disappointment against Doncaster Rovers in League One (May 25, 2008), with Leeds now playing the most such matches without ever gaining promotion.

Farke also missed the opportunity to become the third manager – after Steve Bruce (four) and Neil Warnock (three) – to win three Premier League promotions, following his Championship-winning campaigns of 2018-19 and 2020-21 with Norwich City.

Southampton saw off West Brom 3-1 at St Mary's on Friday to set up a Championship play-off final showdown with Leeds United.

Leeds thumped Norwich City 4-0 at Elland Road 24 hours earlier to book their place at Wembley, where Southampton now await on May 26.

The first leg between the Saints and West Brom finished goalless - just like the other semi-final - but the home side's quality told in the end.

Russell Martin's side dominated the first-half possession, with David Brooks going closest to scoring with a shot that hit the outside of the post.

Southampton made the breakthrough via a powerful Will Smallbone finish four minutes into the second half after Gray Diangana lost possession.

Darnell Furlong had a shot helped over by Alex McCarthy, while David Brooks - who assisted the opener - had a strong penalty appeal rejected.

Southampton remained in control, though, and Adam Armstrong scored a second with a shot through Furlong's legs and past Alex Palmer.

Armstrong's second goal arrived from the penalty spot in the 86th minute after Tom Fellows fouled Ryan Manning in the box, rendering Cedric Kipre's late header a mere consolation.

Michael Carrick revealed details of Middlesbrough’s scary 24 hours before securing a late 1-1 draw with promotion-chasing Southampton.

Emmanuel Latte Lath headed in a 90th-minute equaliser after Adam Armstrong had put Saints into the driving seat.

It had come after 70mph winds battered the south coast and forced a hairy two attempts at landing into Southampton Airport on Thursday.

Boro boss Carrick said: “We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm last night after our flight was abandoned coming into land.

“We were getting blown all over the place as we were trying to coming into land and then we ended up having to take off again. We almost got diverted to Birmingham.

“It was tasty. Some of the boys were slightly tetchy, it wasn’t pleasant.

“Some of the boys are talking about getting onto the coach on the way back!”

Middlesbrough have 11 injuries, including four centre-backs on the sidelines, which forced midfielder Jonny Howson into the backline.

Howson’s horrifically sliced attempt to clear Kamaldeen Sulemana’s cross gifted Armstrong the opener – his 19th goal of the season and 30th he has been involved with in the league.

“To go 1-0 down and Jonny playing centre-half, it felt like a long day but I’m proud of them,” said Carrick.

“The boys showed what they were capable of against a strong side and with the jabs the boys have had with injuries.

“A lot of teams have had injuries but it has been a revolving door. The boys have adapted unbelievably well.

“I am so so pleased with the boys. We felt we deserved something from the game. I enjoyed watching it. I was desperate for the boys to get something after their effort.”

Ivorian striker Latte Lath’s late header was his 10th of the season and made Saints pay after Che Adams missed a series of gilt-edged chances.

“Che will be frustrated he hasn’t scored,” said Southampton manager Russell Martin. “But it isn’t the reason we lose.

“We still need to defend properly and win the game 1-0.

“I’m really disappointed and frustrated. We should have scored three or four goals. If you aren’t going to score enough to win it you need to defend with your lives.

“The goal is rubbish, it is nowhere near as good a chance as any of ours but he has taken it well.

“We created a lot of chances and on another day we win with a lot of goals but we couldn’t get that next goal and it really hurt us.

“What better way to take out our frustration than on Monday in a really big game (away at promotion rivals Ipswich).

“The lads are annoyed. I was so angry straight after the game so I took a bit of time to talk to them because there was an opportunity there, especially with the result at Leicester (who lost 1-0 to Bristol City).

“But there will still be a lot of twists and turns and some crazy results because the end of the season does some crazy things to teams and people feel pressure in strange ways.

“The game on Monday is perfect for us to bounce back and no one needs to build it up at all.

“We will do everything we can to learn from today. Hopefully we can use the frustration and turn it into a positive.”

Manager Russell Martin hailed super-sub Joe Rothwell after his quickfire double helped Southampton stay on track in the Championship promotion race after beating Sunderland 4-2.

Stuart Armstrong and Adam Armstrong had put Saints into a comfortable first-half lead before Romaine Mundle and Jobe Bellingham hit back.

But Rothwell’s 73rd-minute introduction turned the momentum with two goals in three minutes to condemn Sunderland to a sixth straight defeat.

Martin said: “Joe is an amazing finisher. The first one looks easy but it isn’t, it is in the half volley, and then with the second he’s showed great composure.

“He was really great when he came on. Him and Joe Aribo can be frustrated that they aren’t starting but they have two guys in front of them who have been playing really well.

“It is good problems for me but they have to keep doing what they have been doing when they get on to the pitch and being frustrated at not playing.

“We should have been out of sight by half-time is my feeling. We only let them have one shot from inside the box and that hit the post and we should have made them pay for that.

“I’m delighted we have won but am furious and frustrated we have conceded two goals because it shouldn’t happen.

“Credit to Sunderland as I thought they only had 15 minutes more of energy and then they score and we weren’t clean enough and there was a bit of tension around the ground.

“But I think we deserved the win, I don’t think anyone who watched the game would say any different.”

Stuart Armstrong opened the scoring by sweeping in from a yard before Geordie Adam Armstrong converted from the spot after Ryan Manning had been downed in the box.

Mundle pulled one back in the 62nd minute from 20 yards with a strike off a post and Bellingham completed the comeback with a wonder strike after shifting on to his right foot from the edge of the area to beat a diving Gavin Bazunu.

Rothwell then claimed the three points. His first came after Adam Armstrong’s blocked cross landed perfectly for him to follow in and lash home before Adam Armstrong’s low cross was cleared off the line and into the path of the Bournemouth loanee to pounce again.

Sunderland boss Mike Dodds is still winless since taking over from Michael Beale last month and said: “The four goals are avoidable goals from my perspective.

“I want to try and spin positives about going toe-to-toe with two quality teams this week but we need to do that more consistently and get the results – that isn’t lost on me.

“I can see everyone is really trying but things aren’t going our way. It is an important moment for this group and we need to stick together.

“My confidence hasn’t taken a hit. I’m really enjoying the role. It has reinforced that I can still see the path I want to go on and still see the belief in the players.

“They have lost six on the bounce. They aren’t skipping down the corridors or high-fiving each other. But I think they can see what we are trying to do.

“I’m not going to say we deserved to win the game but for large periods we were better than Southampton.”

Newcastle-born striker Adam Armstrong helped extend Sunderland’s losing run to six matches as Southampton’s 4-2 victory breathed new life into their Sky Bet Championship promotion push.

Armstrong, who played 21 times for the Magpies after coming through their youth set-up, converted a first-half penalty after Stuart Armstrong had already poked Saints ahead.

Romaine Mundle and Jobe Bellingham pulled it back to 2-2 but Joe Rothwell’s quick-fire brace off the bench – both with heavy Adam Armstrong influence – maintained Mike Dodds zero per cent record since taking over from Michael Beale.

Sunderland didn’t have a shot on target in the first half but could have led inside 90 seconds but Mason Burstow curled just wide.

Burstow would also shake a post from the most acute of angles but otherwise the hosts dominated and should have gone in better than their 2-0 lead.

David Brooks set the tone in the fourth minute when he was given plenty of time to get a shot away but could only fire wide.

The opener came five minutes later as Brooks clipped a ball to the back post and Bellingham headed back across his own goal under pressure to offer Jan Bednarek a free header. That was saved but only as far as Stuart Armstrong, who swept in from a yard.

It was the Scotland international’s first league goal since December and fourth of the season.

He almost had a second in the 19th minute when a clear shot was deflected behind before Che Adams couldn’t divert a low cross in and Brooks struck a free-kick straight at goalkeeper Anthony Patterson.

Saints’ second came in the 37th minute after Ryan Manning had his legs taken from under him by Leo Hjelde for a stonewall penalty.

Adam Armstrong converted, albeit with a slip which drew complaints of a double contact from the Black Cats, before celebrating in the corner where the away fans were situated.

But the momentum completely changed in the second half, specifically on a pair of double substitutions in the 58th minute.

Russell Martin’s withdrawal of Brooks and Will Smallbone didn’t work but Dodds’ introduction of Adil Aouchiche and Nazariy Rusyn was a masterstroke.

Rusyn had already blasted into the side-netting before Mundle pulled one back in the 62nd minute from 20 yards with a strike off a post.

Bellingham completed the comeback with a wonder strike after shifting on to his right foot from the edge of the area to beat a diving Gavin Bazunu.

But Saints rallied and another double swap reverted their fortunes as Rothwell turned things back around and James Bree shored things up.

Rothwell was in the right place at the right time twice in three minutes within seven minutes of being subbed on in the 73rd minute.

His first came after Adam Armstrong’s blocked cross landed perfectly for him to follow in and lash home before Adam Armstrong’s low delivery was cleared off the line and into the path of the Bournemouth loanee to pounce again.

Russell Martin believes Southampton’s togetherness and spirit will help in their push for an immediate Premier League return after they fought for a much-needed, last-gasp 4-3 win at 10-man Birmingham.

Having been relegated with a whimper last term before enduring a difficult start to life in the Sky Bet Championship, Saints then went on a club-record 25-match unbeaten run in all competitions.

That streak ended 18 days ago with the first of four defeats in five games, with three of those losses coming in the league as their hopes of automatic promotion began to fade.

Martin’s men desperately needed to return to winning ways to kick-start their promotion bid and substitute Joe Aribo’s stoppage-time strike completed a breathless victory at St Andrew’s.

“The identity of the team has changed and how it functions and how it plays, and what is important to the team,” the Saints boss said after catching his breath. “But the biggest change has been in that (spirit).

“I think how together they are, how much they believe in each other, how much they trust each other, how much they care for each other.

“And that just takes time and hopefully they see that the same thing from us as a group of coaching staff.

“It has been amazing and they are so together and they feel everything together.

“Football has a tendency to make you into a bit of a robot, really, emotionally, especially when you’ve been in the game for a long time.

“You have a bit of like scar tissue from previous battles but been amazing to see some of them open up and be a bit vulnerable.

“To play the way we play you have to be a bit vulnerable sometimes with the ball because it’s a bit scary. I have nothing but gratitude for that and I’ve loved watching it.

“That spirit will help us for sure in the last quarter of the season.

“I’d rather not win in the last minute, but I think it’s down to togetherness and spirit, and also the amount of work they put into opposition teams with the ball.

“They make teams have to run really, really hard and it tires people out.”

Saints were on top for large parts but twice came from behind in Birmingham, where Koji Miyoshi and Jay Stansfield efforts were cancelled out by Adam Armstrong and David Brooks respectively.

Che Adams went on to put the visitors ahead against his former club, who were reduced to 10 men when Blues skipper Dion Sanderson was sent off.

Birmingham dug deep in the absence of boss Tony Mowbray and Juninho Bacuna equalised, but Southampton were not to be denied as Aribo sparked stoppage-time celebrations.

Assistant Mark Venus, who felt Sanderson’s red card was undeserved, said: “It must have exciting for the fans. It was emotional sat there, to be honest.

“I think if you just look at the end of it, we got to 90-odd minutes with 3-3 with 10 men and just to concede the last goal is heartbreaking for everybody, really.

“I think they were dangerous every time they put the ball in the box and bottom line is we rode our luck.

“We played against a good team in the league and showed a lot of character.”

Substitute Joe Aribo struck at the death to seal stuttering Sky Bet Championship promotion hopefuls Southampton a dramatic, much-needed 4-3 victory away to 10-man Birmingham.

Russell Martin’s Saints were in desperate need of a morale-boosting win having lost four of their five games in all competitions since their club-record 25-match unbeaten run came to an end.

Birmingham threatened to further dent their fading automatic promotion bid on Saturday afternoon, but Southampton’s strong bench and unwavering spirit paid dividends as substitute Aribo struck deep in stoppage time.

It was a blockbuster end to a breathless encounter that began with Koji Miyoshi putting the Blues ahead inside two minutes, only for Adam Armstrong to deservedly level for Saints.

But Birmingham back caught the visitors out and Jay Stansfield put them back ahead against the run of play, meaning Saints had to rally after the break.

David Brooks scored a brilliant equaliser and Che Adams put Martin’s men ahead, with Blues skipper Dion Sanderson’s sending-off appearing to end this clash as a contest.

Further twists followed, though, as Birmingham – fighting for absent boss Tony Mowbray – levelled through Juninho Bacuna, before Aribo snuck Southampton a potentially huge stoppage-time winner at St Andrew’s.

This clash was a wild ride from the start, with Bacuna’s fine ball putting Miyoshi all too easily in behind to send an effort whizzing past Gavin Bazunu via a Ryan Manning deflection.

The 26-year-old appeared to handle in the build-up, but the goal stood and Birmingham nearly had a quickfire second, with Bacuna’s strike hitting a post and then going out off the back of the goalkeeper’s head.

Saints woke up after that fifth minute let-off as Brooks’ volley into the ground flew just over before Armstrong and Adams tried their luck.

Martin’s men would level in the 18th minute as Brooks slipped in Armstrong to prod through John Ruddy’s legs, with the home faithful’s appeals for offside falling on deaf ears.

The equaliser gave Southampton a pep in their step and Adams saw an audacious long-range effort take a touch off Sanderson and hit a post.

Birmingham were hanging on for dear life, only to go back ahead in the 41st minute. Jan Bednarek managed to flick on rather than clear Sanderson’s hopeful long ball, putting Stansfield behind to blast past Bazunu.

Armstrong saw a curling effort hit the bar and Will Smallbone fizzed across the face of goal as Saints pushed to reach parity before half-time.

Birmingham began the second half well as Taylor Harwood-Bellis escaped a penalty shout for handball before a Bacuna strike whistled just wide from 20 yards.

Again, Saints’ sloppiness at the start of a half sparked a vast improvement and they equalised in the 55th minute.

Brooks cut in from the right flank and was left inexplicably open to get hit stunning curling effort past Ruddy.

Southampton scented blood and took the lead four minutes later as Adams controlled a deep cross and showed patience before lasering home.

Birmingham fans’ frustration was quickly compounded by a straight card to Sanderson in the 62nd minute after leaving Smallbone in a heap.

The hosts’ complaints about the decision fell on deaf ears and Saints tried and failed to put the game to bed.

Instead, lively Stansfield saw a strike come back off a post and Bacuna reacted quickest to fire Birmingham level.

Adams hit a snapshot into the side netting as Saints pushed for a winner, which finally came during nine minutes of stoppage time.

Harwood-Bellis headed on a corner and Aribo showed strength and skill to steer home in front of the elated away end.

Russell Martin has urged his Southampton players to “make history” after equalling their best English Football League unbeaten run by thrashing Sheffield Wednesday 4-0.

Adam Armstrong scored and set up Che Adams, Ryan Fraser and Sekou Mara to mark Saints’ 19th league game without defeat. They moved into the automatic places for the first time since the opening day of the season, ahead of Ipswich’s evening kick-off.

The unbeaten run is only bettered in the club’s history by a 24-match spell in 1896 and 1897.

Martin said: “We are on an unbeaten run where I’m immensely proud of the players. It is incredible what they have achieved and we have to keep it going as long as possible.

“We have never gone ‘we need to chase Leicester and Ipswich’. We are concentrating on ourselves and we’ll see where it takes us.

“It has never been a conscious focus for us but I want them to go and make some history next week.

“I want them to be remembered for that. I want them to do it and it has been an incredible achievement.

“I told them that the biggest incentive was finishing the game in second, for how long who knows. But it is a reward for the hard work they have put in and we are really in the race and the hunt now.

“For the players to put themselves in that position of 20 games unbeaten in all competitions is amazing.

“The way they have done it has shown they are growing. It has been a pleasure to watch but it is now our job to keep them hungry.

“If they do it then we will be in with a really good chance of achieving what we wanted to achieve.”

Adams opened the scoring after collecting an Armstrong cross before rounding a defender and lashing into the bottom corner.

Armstrong got his goal on the counter after Stuart Armstrong fed him before the former Blackburn man brilliantly provided for Fraser and Mara to make it nine straight home victories at St Mary’s.

Martin said of Armstrong: “If he carries on going I will be happy either way.

“He’s been so good and probably playing in a position he doesn’t really want to play. He wants to be the number nine in the team but he’s playing a role he is playing so well in.

“The goals and the assists are what strikers get judged on but there is so much more to it than that with Adam.”

Wednesday boss Danny Rohl was previously an assistant at Saints and is crossing his fingers for his former employers in their automatic promotion hunt.

Rohl said: “It is a big challenge at the top of the table but when you see what they are doing they are a good team.

“Because of my past I cross my fingers for Southampton but it won’t be easy. If they do a job like today then they’ll stand a good chance.”

He added: “That was hard. Southampton played well. It was a game we had to perform well and make no mistakes.

“Everyone was convinced we could have taken something. It is different to three months ago when we came to games and thought there wasn’t a chance. We had the confidence to try something.

“This team is a different league to us. For us it is about staying in the league and for them it is the Premier League.

“All in all it was a deserved victory for Southampton.”

Russell Martin enjoyed getting his revenge on Cardiff fans after Southampton stretched their unbeaten run to 11 matches.

Saints boss Martin was subjected to abusive comments by visiting supporters throughout the match.

After celebrating with Saints supporters he displayed four fingers at the Bluebirds fans after the match – in reference to the two back-to-back season doubles he secured against them as Swansea manager.

He said: “I had my time at the end. They had theirs over the 90 minutes so I enjoyed mine for 10 seconds at the end.

“I’m sure there will be people who disagree with that but I choose to feel everything and enjoy that.

“If you want to hammer me for 90 minutes then I’m allowed maybe 10 seconds at the end.”

Southampton claimed a two-goal lead inside 15 minutes thanks to Adam Armstrong’s brace and never looked back.

The striker’s first came at the end of a fine team move as he brilliantly curled into the top corner, before adding his 12th of the campaign by heading in after good work from Stuart Armstrong.

Martin said about his top scorer: “He has so much quality and also a load of attitude. The first goal is quality and the second is his attitude and desire.

“We love him in that dressing room for how he is and how he conducts himself and how he works for the team.

“The goals are a real bonus and he possesses so much quality but it is his intensity he plays at and his willingness to run.”

Southampton threatened to run rampant in the second half but missed a host of chances – with substitute Ryan Fraser failing to add a third despite having six shots.

Martin said: “I’m really happy. I thought we were good today. We started the game so well.

“We should score more goals, that was the only frustration. I thought the lads were incredible in the second half.

“I watched with so much pride and gratitude for what they were doing. It’s been a long week so to produce that level of performance in the second half… [scoring a third goal] wasn’t to be.

“Ryan Fraser has come off the pitch frustrated that he hasn’t scored. It’s not a coincidence that the chances fall to him because he runs at the goal relentlessly.”

Erol Bulut bemoaned Cardiff’s slow start to the match but is looking forward to January to bolster his side to be able to compete with the Championship’s big boys.

“The first 20 minutes was [what went wrong],” he said. “It was not what I was expecting.

“After those 20 minutes we woke up but we were already 2-0 down. We were good but not good enough.

“At the end of the first half if we had scored with [Karlan Grant] I think the second half would be very different.

“We have progressed from the start of the season to today perfectly and we will continue to work hard.

“I hope in the January transfer [window] I can get some quality players in and we can push for more.

“This is the difference between the top level and what we currently have. It is small details.

“We’ve played against relegated Premier League teams, they have quality but they show us where we need to go and how we need to work. We’ll look in January to get to that level.”

Adam Armstrong’s brace fired Southampton to a 2-0 victory over Cardiff and to Saints’ longest unbeaten run for 19 seasons.

Armstrong curled and headed in his 11th and 12th goals of the season to stay on the heels of Blackburn’s Sammie Szmodics in the race for the Sky Bet Championship’s Golden Boot.

Saints stay fourth but the 11 matches they are now without defeat has equalled the number they went unbeaten between December 1994 and February 1995 – though that run remarkably contained nine draws, in contrast to the eight wins in the current sequence.

The opener came in the 11th minute to complete a fine team move.

Saints had passed and moved their way down the left flank before Flynn Downes fired in to Carlos Alcaraz, who laid off to Adam Armstrong. The in-form hitman took a touch before bending into the top corner.

Four minutes later the same player doubled the hosts’ lead. This time it was Stuart Armstrong’s quick feet that earned space on the left side of the box before his cross deflected up off Dimitrios Goutas and onto Adam Armstrong’s head.

While chances did not come freely for Southampton, they kept the ball and toyed with the Bluebirds with incisive passes as freezing fog hovered over St Mary’s.

Adam Armstrong almost completed his hat-trick when Che Adams’ cross was pawed into him but his header lacked power and allowed Alex Runarsson to scramble back across his line to hold on.

Alcaraz headed over a Stuart Armstrong centre but the third goal should have gone to the visitors in first-half stoppage time. Perry Ng’s deflected ball into the box found Josh Bowler a couple of yards out and free at the back post, but he skied over the crossbar.

Cardiff had only been behind once before at the break this season, and continued their attempt to a comeback as Karlan Grant fired wide.

Che Adams replied in kind in his first start since October before substitute Joe Aribo squirted a shot against the base of the post.

Ryan Fraser had three good chances to put Saints clear but failed to put either on target before a third effort was deflected wide.

The hosts continued to slice through hapless Cardiff but Runarsson denied Adam Armstrong a third after a rasping drive.

Fraser continued to be frustrated in front of goal while Sekou Mara also had shots as Southampton could have justifiably won by a landslide.

Former Swansea boss Russell Martin continued his 100 per cent win record against Cardiff but saw their promotion position unmoved, with Leicester, Ipswich and Leeds also winning.

Russell Martin was proud that Southampton found a new way to win as they extended their unbeaten run to eight matches with a 2-1 victory over West Brom.

Will Smallbone and Adam Armstrong’s strikes maintained Saints’ promotion push, but it came in a much scrappier style than Martin would have liked.

The Baggies dominated the second half, equalised through Kyle Bartley and could have led but Darnell Furlong’s header came back off the crossbar.

Saints boss Martin said: “It was a different win to those we’ve had previously.

“I just said to the players it was built on character, spirit and togetherness. The energy from the crowd was amazing as well. It was that rather than dominance and control.

“They are one of the best teams we’ve played. I have so much respect for Carlos (Corberan). They make it seriously difficult for you. They have a lot of power and athleticism.

“In the second half the momentum swung and we were too untidy on the ball. Their goal was coming, we weren’t good enough in that period.

“We wanted the chance to fall to Adam, with his finishing abilities and mentalities.

“I enjoyed watching my players play and fight for each other. It is a big difference to the way we defended the goal at the start of the season.

“I can’t be entirely pleased with the performance but I can be proud of the way we won in a different way.

“I think the fans are now understanding the team and I hope they are starting to enjoy it. They stuck with it through a tough period.”

Saints took the lead in the fifth minute when Stuart Armstrong cut back to Adam Armstrong from the byline. His shot was saved but the rebound fell to Smallbone to convert from close range.

Conor Townsend thought he had cleared off the line but the goal-line technology confirmed West Brom had conceded the first goal in a match for the first time since September.

The visitors equalised after banging at the door for an extended spell. Brandon Thomas-Asante powered a header from Jed Wallace’s cross, with centre-back Bartley following up to bundle over the line for his second of the season.

The momentum continued when Townsend’s wicked cross was attacked by Darnell Furlong and crashed against the crossbar.

But Adam Armstrong went straight up the other end to calmly pull down Ryan Fraser’s cross and finish.

With Jan Bednarek suspended, Mason Holgate was given a rare start and Martin said: “Mason gave a brilliant performance today.

“Mason has had to wait for his opportunities. I put him in too early and he’s bounced back perfectly. The crowd were brilliant to give him man of the match.”

West Brom boss Corberan thought his side deserved a point for their second-half endeavour.

“I am not happy because we didn’t win,” he said. “We need to keep growing and attack better in their box and defend better in our box.

“If you analyse the way we play you will see how well we played in the second half. The volume of attack in the second half was more than the first.

“The fair result would have been a point for both teams.

“Every time we have lost the game before the international break but we have improved afterwards. If we can have those good performances as standard then we can be a competitive team.

“We need to do it against every type of opponent.

“We needed to be perfect today against a team like Southampton. We weren’t perfect in the first half and we weren’t perfect in finishing in the second half or how we defended their winner.

“We are frustrated because we go home with nothing.”

Adam Armstrong continued Southampton’s reputation as the Championship’s  late kings as his 79th-minute winner clinched a 2-1 victory over promotion rivals West Brom.

Will Smallbone had put Saints ahead early on before Kyle Bartley levelled things, with West Brom almost leading when Darnell Furlong hit the crossbar.

But Armstrong coolly prodded in his ninth goal of the season to grab the league-high eighth goal Saints have bagged in the last 15 minutes of their matches.

It extended Southampton’s unbeaten run to eight matches while halting West Brom’s three-game winning streak.

As they had in the previous seven games, Saints scored first.

Stuart Armstrong cut back to Adam Armstrong from the byline in the fifth minute. His shot was saved but the rebound fell to Smallbone to slam in from close range.

Conor Townsend thought he had cleared off the line but the goal-line technology confirmed West Brom had conceded the first goal in a match for the first time since September.

The hosts took hold of the game without testing Alex Palmer’s goal again, until the 28th minute.

Kyle Walker-Peters was released down the right, he stepped over to beat his defender before passing to Smallbone, via Kamaldeen Sulemana, but his snapshot had too much elevation and cleared the crossbar.

The Baggies rallied, found a powerful press and came knocking for an equaliser in the last 10 minutes of the first half.

Nathaniel Chalobah may have slipped when recording his side’s first shot but showed the intent.

Brandon Thomas-Asante’s shot was scuffed but was destined for the bottom corner had it not been for Taylor Harwood-Bellis throwing himself at the ball to head behind.

Turkish midfielder Okay Yokuslu then fired over from the corner of the box as Southampton were relieved by the whistle.

Mason Holgate had returned to the starting eleven in place of the suspended Jan Bednarek. The former West Brom loanee had a few nervy moments in the first half but grew into the game with a vital block to deny Thomas-Asante.

Still, the Baggies pushed without end product and in the 63rd minute Matt Phillips showed his directness to jinx off his flank before his curling shot bounced just wide.

There was no surprise when two minutes later the away side levelled.

Thomas-Asante powered a header from Jed Wallace’s cross, with centre-back Bartley following up to bundle over the line for his second goal of the season.

The momentum continued when Townsend’s wicked cross was attacked by Darnell Furlong and crashed into the crossbar.

It woke Saints up and with 11 minutes left,  they went straight up the other end and scored.

Adam Armstrong calmly pulled Ryan Fraser’s cross down at the back post and slotted in his ninth goal of the campaign. It was Saints’ only shot on target in the second period.

Gavin Bazunu produced a stunning stoppage-time save to deny Jayson Molumby and hold on to the three points.

Birmingham manager Wayne Rooney is adamant he does not want VAR in the Sky Bet Championship despite his side being denied a clear penalty in their 3-1 defeat by Southampton.

Gavin Bazunu wiped out Oliver Burke just before half-time when the score was 2-0 but referee David Webb waved away the spot-kick shouts.

Instead, Taylor Harwood-Bellis, Carlos Alcaraz and Adam Armstrong’s goals condemned Rooney to his third straight defeat as Blues boss.

“These decisions happen when you don’t have VAR,” said Rooney. “I’m not a fan of VAR and you accept referees and linesmen might make mistakes but what you can’t accept is the penalty decision.

“It is ridiculous and everyone in the stadium could see it.

“The keeper is committed and is coming at pace and is reckless. If he is coming like that then he has to win the ball but he absolutely wipes out Burkey.

“The most frustrating thing is that the fourth official told me that the referee was clear in his decision and wasn’t willing to take advice from his fourth official and assistant.

“He was clear there was minimal contact. That is a worry for me.

“I hope VAR doesn’t filter down but we would have got a penalty if VAR was here.

“I know referees will make mistakes, I can accept that but for me that was too much and a big error.”

Southampton manager Russell Martin agreed, saying: “I haven’t seen it back but at the time I thought it was a penalty.

“I feel for Wayne and if he’s frustrated with that I would be as well.

“It was a moment of madness from Gav. He hadn’t had a lot to do at that point.”

Saints opened the scoring in the ninth minute when Harwood-Bellis nodded in his first goal for the club from Adam Armstrong’s cross.

Alcaraz added a second from close range after fine work from Kamaldeen Sulemana and Stuart Armstrong.

Jay Stansfield wonderfully bent in his fourth goal of the season 52 seconds after coming off the bench but Adam Armstrong settled things with his eighth career goal against Birmingham.

Rooney added: “I thought Southampton were the better team and there are no complaints that they won the game.

“For where we are at, we could have come away from this game with something. There are positives for coming to the best team in the league at playing football but there is still a lot for us to work on.”

It was Southampton’s sixth game unbeaten and Martin said: “It has been a really nice run, especially after the run that came before that.

“That probably makes me more proud of the players and the staff for the way they came through that. It has been beautiful to see the growth in that time.

“To see them smiling together and fighting for each other, it has been brilliant to be a part of it.

“We played some beautiful stuff in the first half with so much energy and aggression, without giving them much threat.

“I’m annoyed we conceded the goal as Gavin deserved a clean sheet.

“We deserved to win and should have scored a few more goals, so there is a bit of frustration but I’m there to be relentless with the lads.

“It has been a brilliant week for us and now we have to keep going.”

Adam Armstrong scored his eighth goal of the season as Southampton eased to a 3-1 Sky Bet Championship victory and condemned Wayne Rooney to a third straight defeat as Birmingham manager.

Forward Armstrong now has eight career goals against Blues, more than he has scored against any other side, as he settled the game with a fine finish.

He had set up Taylor Harwood-Bellis’ opener before Carlos Alcaraz tapped in – both players’ first goals of the season. Jay Stansfield pulled one back for the visitors but it could not help end Rooney’s winless run.

Southampton had monopolised the opening stages without creating anything clear-cut until Harwood-Bellis nodded in the ninth-minute opener.

Armstrongs Stuart and Adam worked a short-corner routine before the latter lifted for the Manchester City loanee to power in his third professional goal, and first since last September.

Blues rallied but Oliver Burke’s lashed effort into the side netting – their only shot of the first half – poked the hosts back into life.

Kamaldeen Sulemana and Stuart Armstrong linked up smartly on the left flank before the Ghanaian slid across the face of the goal for Alcaraz to push in.

Rooney had been booed after Wednesday’s 2-0 home defeat by Hull, and Saints supporters rubbed their advantage in with a round of “sacked in the morning” aimed at the Manchester United great.

But rather than rub further salt into the wound of Rooney’s poor start, Birmingham fans supported their boss with cries of “Rooney, Rooney” and “Wayne Rooney’s Blue Army”.

Their support should have been rewarded with a spot-kick but goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu got away with flattening Burke in the box.

Saints should have gone into the break with more than a two-goal advantage as Harwood-Bellis’ free header from a corner skipped wide and Adam Armstrong clipped a one-on-one over John Ruddy but wide of the goal.

After the break, Stuart Armstrong tamely ended a well-worked move and Adam Armstrong’s diving header flashed wide.

But the hosts floundered and Blues capitalised. Stansfield jumped off the bench, met Lukas Jutkiewicz’s knockdown, bullied his way past Kyle Walker-Peters and rifled into the top corner – all within 52 seconds of his 57th-minute introduction.

It was Stansfield’s fourth goal of the season and extended Southampton’s wait for a home clean sheet to 28 matches.

But Saints held onto the ball well and made sure of the result in the 86th minute when top-scorer Adam Armstrong pounced and swivelled onto Sam Edozie’s nod down.

Scott Hogan curled one onto the roof of the goal in additional time but it could not stop Saints moving to a sixth game unbeaten to cement their place in the play-off spots.

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