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Southampton to face Leeds in Championship play-off final

AFP – Southampton will face Leeds for a place in the Premier League after reaching the Championship play-off final with a 3-1 win against West Bromwich Albion on Friday.

Russell Martin’s side moved a step closer to promotion thanks to Will Smallbone’s second half opener and two late goals from Adam Armstrong in the semi-final second leg at raucous St Mary’s.

Cedric Kipre’s header in the final seconds was no consolation for out-classed Albion.

Bidding to end their one-year exile from the Premier League after last season’s relegation, Southampton will head to Wembley on May 26 for what is regarded as world football’s richest game, given the wealth on offer in the top tier.

After a goalless first leg at the Hawthorns last Sunday, Southampton were deserved winners, with their confident performance showing why they finished fourth in the table, 12 points clear of fifth-placed Albion. United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a noted Southampton fan, cheered from the stands as Martin’s men responded to their manager’s pre-match plea to “attack the game until you can’t run any more”.

The only blemish for Southampton was a post-match pitch invasion that turned ugly when Saints fans confronted their Albion rivals, with punches briefly traded before police restored order.

“In the first half, we were good but a little bit tense. In the second half, I thought we were incredible. I feel we got what we deserved,” Martin said.

“We had a brilliant night but it’s all leading to the big one. If we can play with the same courage and intensity as we did tonight, we can give ourselves a chance.”

West Brom boss Carlos Corberan added, “We didn’t show our best level. I had confidence in our team but it is more about the pain that we have after this defeat.”

Southampton’s Adam Armstrong and West Bromwich Albion’s Alex Mowatt vie for the ball at The Hawthorns, in West Bromwich, England. PHOTO: AP