Emotional Martin overjoyed for Smallbone

2023-24/Matchdays/20240302 Birmingham vs Southampton/MW_Birmingham_Southampton_137_cb0qrr

An emotional Russell Martin spoke of his joy at seeing Will Smallbone make such a huge contribution to the team's dramatic win at Birmingham, as the midfielder finished a difficult week with a day to remember for all the right reasons.

The target of cruel, online abuse ahead of this weekend's game, the midfielder responded with a magnificent display in the 4-3 victory at St Andrew's – which included two assists – before sharing in a moment of celebration in front of the Saints fans after full-time, as he was pushed towards them by Martin and captain Jack Stephens, pumping his fist in the air to huge cheers.

Martin had to hold back some tears as he spoke about what it meant to see Smallbone end the week in the way he did.

"For Will to have that moment with the fans as well, I felt emotional about that – I do now," he said, pausing to compose himself. "But he deserved that."

On Smallbone's performance, an emotional Martin said: "Brilliant. Really, really brilliant. Really top. So pleased for him, and the fans. He was amazing."

The Saints boss was also thrilled for the man who replaced Smallbone during the second half, Joe Aribo, as he scored the winning goal six minutes into added time, once again producing a hugely important display for the team.

"The lads love him, the fans love him," said Martin. "Hopefully everyone's really seeing what he has to offer.

"He was amazing on Wednesday [against Liverpool], he probably deserved to play, but he hadn't played 90 minutes for a long time and was absolutely hanging on Thursday.

"He's a brilliant player and an even better character, and for him to score the goal – I said to him there'll be a chance for you at some point. I was completely guessing, but I hoped, and it's fallen to him and he's tucked it away."