Martin hails "huge" clean sheet

2023-24/Matchdays/202040512 West Brom vs Southampton - Play-off SF/MW_WBA_Southampton_Playoffs_094_mh3szg

Russell Martin was delighted with his players’ commitment to defend, as an important clean sheet against West Brom set up a one-game shootout at St Mary’s in the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final.

It was a game of few chances at The Hawthorns, where goalkeepers Alex McCarthy and Alex Palmer made two vital saves apiece to preserve the deadlock.

It leaves Saints with home advantage in the second leg, and 90 minutes away from the club’s first ever play-off final.

“It was a tough game, as expected,” Martin reflected. “Good atmosphere, hot, which made it difficult – the heat definitely dried the pitch up a bit, it was sticky. I liked some stuff, I really liked some stuff, some other stuff we need to improve on and work on.

“Alex (McCarthy) was needed twice and kept a brilliant clean sheet, and their goalie was needed a couple of times as well.

“Against a team that has brilliant home form, is a difficult place to come, atmosphere was rocking, I think a clean sheet is huge for us.

“Now we can go back to St Mary’s with one game, at home, with our crowd, who I have no doubt will create the same if not better atmosphere than here. It’s in our hands, we’re at home and I’m looking forward to it already.”

Saints came under heavy pressure early on, as West Brom forced three corners in the opening four minutes, but showed their resilience to weather the storm and play their way into the game.

“We spoke about the start of the game,” Martin added. “We kicked it and then didn’t touch the ball again for 10 or 15 minutes, but this last two weeks the team has defended with aggression, intensity, togetherness.

“We’ve shown a different side of our game the last couple of weeks in and around our final third which I’ve really liked: a real commitment to stop crosses, to force a team back, so we had to do all of that. I spoke to them about that, that there would be a spell in the game at some point where we have to suffer a little bit.

“When the game calmed down I thought we opened them up a little bit and there were some great chances, but they’re good, they’re organised and they made it tough.

“To avoid defeat away from home in the first tie is really important, but we came to win. We didn’t set up negatively, we dominated the ball but we need to do more with it. The pitch was difficult at times where it was so hot, but the lads stuck to it.

“There were some tired bodies on both teams towards the end of the game, but you have to expect a team to have a spell away from home. I enjoyed the way the lads managed that side of the game, without the ball, and now I think we can be quite a lot better on Friday, which is exciting.”