Russell Martin said the Sky Bet Championship automatic promotion race “dynamic” has changed after Southampton’s 3-0 domination of Preston.

Saints had looked destined for a play-off place after three defeats in four games during February, but three home wins in seven days has them just four points off the top two.

A Che Adams brace and Stuart Armstrong’s fourth goal of the season sealed the points on Tuesday and Saints boss Martin said: “I think it was a brilliant performance with some really beautiful stuff.

“It has been a big week for us. It has changed the dynamic. We were written off some point ago but the players have stuck at it and been resilient.

“We have the opportunity to take the points off teams around us but if we have to take care of the next one against Cardiff and if we don’t then the others become a bit pointless.”

Adams opened the scoring in the 19th minute when he tapped in Adam Armstrong’s centre for his 100th career goal.

He doubled his tally by finishing a fine team move with a cool finish before Stuart Armstrong capitalised on a defensive howler to smash in.

The only taint on the evening was an Achilles injury to goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu in the warm-up that looks to have ended his season.

Martin, who promoted Alex McCarthy, said: “He has felt something in his Achilles and will have a scan tomorrow. We don’t expect to see him any time soon and we’ll give him all the support he needs.

“Al has trained so well. He has travelled everywhere and trained like a beast. We’ve seen what Joe (Lumley) can do and has done really well and we wanted to see Al. It was a feeling I had in my gut at the time.”

But Martin added on the performance of Adams, who he subbed off before he could score a hat-trick: “He has just threatened to beat me up out there! We had a hug and a laugh and he understands why I had to take him off.

“He looks like he is going to score all the time at the moment.”

Preston had the third lowest expected goals of the Championship season with 0.07 and manager Ryan Lowe said: “The be all and end all was the first half has cost us. The game plan that we set out to do in the first half was nowhere near.

“The game was probably over at half-time at 3-0. You can’t give a team like Southampton chances like that because they’re a fantastic team.

“The game plan was to try and nullify their strengths and capitalise on their weaknesses and we didn’t really do either.

“They could end up going up automatically, if not they’re going to be a real force in the play-offs.”

Che Adams notched a brace to give Southampton a 3-0 victory over Preston, a third home win in seven days and a clear view of the Sky Bet Championship automatic promotion places.

Striker Adams claimed a classy first-half double – which took him past 100 league goals – before Scotland team-mate Stuart Armstrong crashed in a third.

After three defeats in four matches in February, Saints thought they would be consigned to the play-offs but three wins in a row, along with Ipswich, Leeds and Leicester’s stumbles, have them four points outside the top two with a game in hand on all but Leicester.

Saints were forced into a pre-match alteration as Gavin Bazunu hobbled out of the warm-ups, with Alex McCarthy brought in for his first league start since the final day of last season – having not initially been named on the bench.

The former England international fumbled his only real work of the night – an early low shot from Mads Frokjaer – but from that point, the hosts suffocated North End with electric passing and goals.

After a couple of close shaves, Adams reached his ton of goals with a 19th minute tap-in. The Scotland international made a smart run in the middle to put himself on the end of Adam Armstrong’s low centre.

Ten minutes later and Saints had doubled their lead after a gorgeous free-flowing move which ended with Adams coolly slotting into the bottom corner following a pass from David Brooks.

Freddie Woodman’s high position twice gave his colleagues a heart-in-mouth moment as Adam Armstrong and Adams both took aim with lobs from 35 yards – both ending up on the roof of the goal.

Saints grabbed their third in the 33rd minute, when Duane Holmes’ abject attempt at a clearance fell to Stuart Armstrong to stroke into a largely unguarded net.

Holmes, already booked, was lucky to stay on the pitch as he tripped Ryan Manning on the edge of the box soon after – with Stuart Armstrong’s free-kick straight at Woodman. But the United States international was hooked by manager Ryan Lowe before the end of the half.

Stuart Armstrong struck the base of a post but Saints would not have been too worried against a Preston side who have not scored a second-half goal on the road in 2024.

Adams had a number of chances to claim the match ball in the second half, none more so than in the 67th minute when he duped a defender with his run, pulled a lofted through-ball down and was only foiled by the onrushing Woodman’s face.

Woodman also saved a rasping effort from Brooks as Saints eased off with the three points secured.

John O’Shea insists he is “more than ready” for management despite his spell as interim Republic of Ireland boss ending in disappointment.

The former Manchester United and Ireland defender, placed in charge for this month’s friendly double-header against Belgium and Switzerland, saw his side go down 1-0 to the Swiss on Tuesday evening after Saturday’s 0-0 draw against the Belgians.

Football Association of Ireland chiefs have indicated they will name Stephen Kenny’s successor early next month with O’Shea having attracted popular support over the last week or so.

Asked what his instinct is on his own future, he said: “My instinct would be that I’m more than ready and capable to be a manager.”

O’Shea has vast experience of international football as a player – he was capped 118 times for Ireland – and has worked as a coach with both the Under-21s and the senior squad under Kenny as well as holding club roles with Reading, Stoke and Birmingham.

Asked if he would seek clarity from the FAI over his chances of being considered for the vacancy, the 42-year-old replied: “I think that’s something that we will obviously discuss later on.

“For me, the full focus was on the two games, enjoy the moment, learn from it and really understand it, learn about myself in terms of how I cope with the situation, with the games, and learn do I want to do it more.

“And look, the emphatic answer from me would be, yes. But where that is, let’s wait and see.

“As I’ve mentioned before, it’s only given me a taste for more, whether that be with Ireland or with club football or whatever the case may be.

“It’s something I’ve loved every minute of and I’ve been fully engrossed with it. It’s just annoying that we didn’t get a win in either of the two games.”

O’Shea’s second game at the helm proved more frustrating than the first as Ireland largely played second fiddle to a side ranked 43 places above them.

It was ultimately settled by Xherdan Shaqiri’s expertly-dispatched 23rd-minute free-kick, but Euro 2024-bound Switzerland were superior for much of the game – skipper Granit Xhaka rattled the post after pouncing on a first-half error by keeper Gavin Bazunu – and ran out deserved winners.

Ireland mounted a late fightback after struggling to create meaningful opportunities until the closing stages, but even then, lacked the precision to convert the pressure into genuine chances.

O’Shea said: “Look, like I spoke to the players about beforehand and beforehand against Belgium too, that’s the level you want to be competing at to qualify for major tournaments.

“Belgium and Switzerland qualify for major tournaments year after year after year, so you have to compete, you have to be clinical and we weren’t clinical enough in the two games.

“That’s something obviously we have to really nail down in terms of taking chances, making that decision in terms of controlling it, the right pass, the right time and being really clinical and getting back to winning games again.”

Kyle Walker-Peters’ stunning strike sent promotion-chasing Southampton to a 1-0 victory over Bristol City and extended their unbeaten Sky Bet Championship run to 10 matches.

Right-back Walker-Peters rifled in the winner from the edge of the box just after half-time.

It condemned Robins boss Liam Manning to his first defeat since replacing Nigel Pearson and saw Saints keep their first home clean sheet since March 4 – thanks partly to two stunning pieces of keeping from Gavin Bazunu.

Southampton spent the majority of the first half attempting to break down two well-disciplined banks of City players.

But found a few moments to warm a heavy-coat-clad St Mary’s crowd.

Kamaldeen Sulemana was the biggest threat with his burst of pace down the left but his finish in the seventh minute lacked the ferocity to beat goalkeeper Max O’Leary.

Top scorer Adam Armstrong had a shot blocked before curling over, while Tommy Conway headed over when unmarked at a corner at the other end.

The first time O’Leary was tested wasn’t until the 28th minute when Stuart Armstrong skidded a powerful shot at him. The initial effort was fumbled but the keeper quickly gathered.

City, who had mainly threatened on the break, had the best two chances of the first half but found Bazunu at his best in the Saints goal.

Firstly, the Ireland keeper brilliantly clawed Mark Sykes’ close-range header off the line before quickly coming off his line and diving at the feet of Conway in a one-versus-one.

Che Adams sliced a shot wide for the misfiring hosts but the fans saved their half-time ire for referee Keith Stroud having felt unfavoured by his decisions.

Saints have gathered a reputation of being slow after the interval but bucked that trend by scoring 109 seconds into the second half.

Adam Armstrong looked like he had run down a cul-de-sac but wriggled back down the right side of the box to find Walker-Peters. The right-back took the ball inside before curling into the top corner with his left foot for his second goal of the season.

Saints pushed for a second. Adam Armstrong bullied his way to a chance in the City box before Carlos Alcaraz bent wide in the 59th minute.

The same two attackers caused issues again seven minutes later, with O’Leary twice getting down low to keep his side in the match.

City thought they should have been awarded a penalty late on but Stroud disagreed that Taylor Harwood-Bellis had handled when sliding to block a cross.

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.”

Russell Martin hailed Southampton’s resilience after a last-gasp Ched Evans own goal secured them a valuable 2-2 draw at Preston.

Goals from Milutin Osmajic and Brad Potts in three second-half minutes set Preston on course for victory until Evans diverted a 96th-minute corner into his own net while under pressure from Saints goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu.

Kyle Walker-Peters had put Southampton ahead in the first half and Martin was pleased with their performance, despite the need for a late equaliser.

“It’s frustrating that we’ve had to pretty much rely on a late goal to get a point, but I’m really happy with the way we’ve performed over the 90 minutes,” he said.

“It’s a dramatic one I know, but the two 10-minute periods either side of half-time have cost us in the end.

“We needed to defend our box much better, but when they scored twice pretty quickly it seemed to energise Preston and their fans and that didn’t help our situation.

“I can’t be unhappy with the performance overall and I won’t criticise the players, because we’ve had to make changes again tonight and the lads who came in were great.

“The lads showed plenty of resilience throughout and I was proud with the way they kept going right until the end.

“There will be question marks about certain selections over the next few days, but considering those changes we’ve been having to make, we’re still on a decent run.”

Southampton are fifth in the table following the result, while Preston are one spot above and one point better off despite their winless run extending to six games.

They travel to face Hull on Saturday and manager Ryan Lowe admits he has to pick his players up from the blow of conceding so late.

“First and foremost I’m really proud of the boys,” he said.

“We had to change the shape at half-time and then in the second half we’ve stuck to the gameplan really well.

“It’s a sucker punch at the end, but I’ve no complaints about that one. We should have seen the game out by that stage.

“I’ve had to lift the lads up, they’re all disappointed because we were worthy of getting the three points.

“We’ve got to pick ourselves up for another big game at the weekend now.

“The Championship is a rocky road, there’s always lots of ups and downs, but I never get too frustrated any more because I know the players always give me 100 per cent effort and application.

“We’ve got a squad we can rotate and everyone knows they have to keep performing.”

An unfortunate last-minute own goal from sub Ched Evans rescued a point for Southampton in a dramatic 2-2 draw at Preston.

As the end of six minutes of added time approached, Southampton goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu was sent up for Ryan Fraser’s corner, and his presence led to the under-pressure Evans diverting past Freddie Woodman.

The late drama meant Southampton extend their unbeaten run to five games, while gutsy Preston were denied what had looked likely to be a first victory in six following goals from Milutin Osmajic and Brad Potts.

The first Championship meeting between these two in almost 15 years saw North End threaten first.

Recalled wide-man Liam Millar charged down the left before curling in a sweet shot which Bazunu dived full length to palm away.

It had been an encouraging start from the hosts, but the in-form Saints replied with skipper Adam Armstrong firing off target following Shea Charles’ neat lay-off.

Despite their recent dip in form following a terrific start to the season, Preston were definitely up for this one and they went close again when Millar fizzed an effort wide from 22 yards, while Mads Frokjaer-Jensen also tried his luck from distance.

After that there was a period of probing as both sides tried to gain the upper hand.

It was Southampton who broke the deadlock after 33 minutes.

A soft goal from Preston’s point of view as defenders stood off right-back Kyle Walker-Peters before he was allowed space to curl home left-footed from an acute angle.

The terrific travelling support from the south coast were almost on their feet again soon after when Will Smallbone’s near-post cross found Armstrong, but he poked wide.

Walker-Peters then turned hero at the other end as he helped Bazunu divert Will Keane’s strike off the line and onto the post, though Preston players appeared convinced that he had used his arm in doing so.

Preston levelled the scores seven minutes after the restart. Osmajic nailed the finish, with the half-time substitute drilling home on the volley after Ben Whiteman’s cross into the box was not cleared.

The Deepdale roof was raised still further three minutes later when Preston scored again.

This time Potts took a pass from Osmajic before darting down the right flank and tucking underneath Bazunu from a tight angle.

Once Saints had settled again, they pushed hard for a leveller.

Subs Stuart Armstrong and Sekou Mara were both denied by Freddie Woodman, while Charles was wasteful when he blazed over with five minutes left.

Saints eventually got their reward deep into stoppage time in the most dramatic of fashion.

Jordan Hugill smashed and grabbed struggling Rotherham to their first away point of the season with a 1-1 draw at Southampton.

Stuart Armstong had put Saints into an early lead, but Hugill came off the bench to spectacularly lob Gavin Bazunu and end the Millers’ five pointless away trips this season.

Saints had been revitalised by two wins in a week and put in a blitzkrieg of attacking intent as they bombarded the Rotherham goal with 12 first-half shots.

For the second home match in a row, it took just two minutes for Southampton to take the lead as Armstrong followed up after Che Adams had hit a post to tap in from a yard.

It was the Scotland midfielder’s second goal of the week, but it was in stark contrast to the rocketed free-kick he bagged against Stoke on Tuesday night.

Kamaldeen Sulemana gave Dexter Lembikisa a torrid time in the early stages. Having easily beaten the defender, the winger forced Viktor Johansson into a fine save before the Ghanaian cut back to Adam Armstrong to scuff a goal-bound shot.

The hosts thought they had doubled their advantage in the 16th minute after Adam Armstrong had skilfully backheeled in Kyle Walker-Peters’ cross – only for the offside flag to keep the score 1-0.

Millers manager Matty Taylor is under pressure following just one win so far this season and attempted to find a foothold in the match by hooking Fred Onyedinma after 30 minutes and switching to a back three.

Adams forced another good save out of Johansson from a header before the striker attempted an acrobatic shot, but was blocked by Lee Peltier.

A medical emergency at the end of the first half in the home end did not immediately stop play, but delayed the beginning of the second half by almost 15 minutes.

Saints monopolised possession again after the interval but failed to continue the blizzard of shots – with Jan Bednarek’s header a rare test for Johansson.

Johansson was forced into his best save of the match with 20 minutes to go, when a well-worked Saints move saw the keeper keep out Will Smallbone’s shot from point-blank range.

The home side’s failure to take their chances came back to haunt them in the 74th minute as Hugill produced a stunner for his third goal of the season.

The second-half substitute watched a loose defensive header bounce before carefully lifting over a stranded Gavin Bazunu. It was the Millers’ first shot on target and just their second in total.

They came close to a second goal five minutes later as Oliver Rathbone scampered off the left to force a save out of Bazunu.

A low near post save denied Carlos Alcaraz and Jan Bednarek was thwarted on the line as Saints failed to find a winner despite having 80 per cent of possession.

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