Rothwell on venomous volleys, promotion prospects and being Saints' super sub

2023-24/Player Features/Joe Rothwell action/6_qjqivm

Hectic? Brilliant? Enjoyable? Just three of the words that come to Joe Rothwell’s mind as he recounts his first two months at Southampton, with more twists and turns still on the horizon.

Since arriving from AFC Bournemouth in the middle of January, Rothwell has barely had a moment to pause since jumping into the midst of a relentless Sky Bet Championship promotion race.

From walking through the doors at Staplewood to making his debut just five days later, it’s been a whirlwind start to the midfielder’s life at Saints.

However, for a brief moment outside the training ground changing rooms during the international break, he has time to assess his spell before a few days of well-earned rest.

“I’ve really enjoyed it.” Rothwell calmly reflects, “I found it really easy to settle in, obviously knowing a few of the lads in here before, but they've made it really easy for me along with the staff as well.

“The way the gaffer wants to play, that was a big pull for me and obviously I wanted to come and be a part of that.

“It probably took me a couple of weeks to get used to how he wants me to play, and I think it didn't help that we played games every single week, or twice a week I should say, but I feel like I'm there now and I understand my role.”

Rothwell pictured on day one as a Saint, midway through the January transfer window

Rothwell’s settling in period, or lack of, perhaps set the tone for the gruelling campaign he entered, as he had to get up to speed for a substitute cameo against Swansea less than a week after his arrival.

With a shift in style to adapt to, and a promise from Russell Martin that “he is going to have his brain fried for a week or two,” Rothwell entered an intense education before his full debut followed in the Emirates FA Cup against Watford.

“We need to hit him with every bit of detail that we can, we will coach the life out of him in here and out on the training pitch.” Martin explained when asked about Rothwell’s welcome.

“It was a bit like that!” The Mancunian midfielder laughs in agreement. “I would say I was just trying to pick it up in the games more than anything.

“Obviously watching the lads who were playing, trying to get an idea off them and speaking with the staff, showing me clips here and there – it probably took a couple of weeks, but I feel like I'm there now.

“The [Swansea] game came at a good time because it gave me a chance to do it on the pitch, it's a lot easier to do it on the pitch than it is in training.

“I then managed to get a good hour in my legs [against Watford] and obviously it wasn't quite where I wanted to be, but it was always going to take a bit of time.

“As I say, it's slowly but surely, and I think we're there now.”

“We will coach the life out of him” - Martin has delivered on his promise to Rothwell

The pay-off seemed to be worth the hours of coaching though, as Rothwell shared a sentiment that his new teammates have for playing football the Martin way.

“I think you can see on the pitch it's effective in the way we play. It's not just pointless possession, there's always a reason behind a pass and ultimately you want to score a goal at the end of the day.

“The amount of goals we've probably scored that started with Gavin [Bazunu], finishing in a goal, it just proves that it works.”

Then, in his fifth game for the club – just over three weeks after joining – Rothwell’s headline moment arrived as he unequivocally announced himself to the St Mary’s faithful.

After entering the field just over half an hour into the encounter against Huddersfield, as an enforced substitute for Flynn Downes, Rothwell occupied the midfield as Saints conceded twice before half time.

Staring the end of the club’s record unbeaten run in the face at the break, it took just five second-half minutes to put things back on track.

A Stuart Armstrong corner was punched clear to the edge of the box, where Rothwell was stationed to hit a thunderbolt back into the top corner and give Saints life.

As if he hasn’t been forced to relive the goal enough already, he nonchalantly describes that strike one more time.

“I've said it from the start, it was one of them. As soon as I hit it, I've not had to watch it go in because I caught it as sweet as I could.

“I've given it a quick glance, seen it going towards goal and I knew it was going in.

“I think I was gradually getting [up to speed] by then, obviously goals do help and I think the style of the goal probably helped a little bit more as well.

“I'd say I was close to it before that game, but I'd probably say scoring that goal and getting another one not long after really helped me.”

Indeed, just a minute later, he struck again to draw Saints level and send the home crowd into delirium.

“It was brilliant,” he recalls. “Obviously I think that stage in the game as well, it was a massive goal for us to get us back into the game.

“I think the roar was probably louder for the second one than the volley, and it just shows how vital the fans are going to be for us now in this run-in.”

Rothwell collected the league’s Goal of the Month trophy for his howitzer of a strike and, more importantly, Saints turned the game around to extend their unbeaten run to 25 games.

It wasn’t to be the last time the midfielder struck a quick-fire brace, however, as he helped Saints to another thrilling victory at the beginning of March, scoring twice in three minutes to seal a 4-2 win over Sunderland.

Is there a secret behind the No 19’s off-the-bench exploits? Nothing more than remaining focused and ready to be called upon, it seems.

“Obviously you're not going to play every game, so the games you don't play you've just got to be ready when you do come on,” he says.

“Luckily for me I've already had a couple of games where I've come on and managed to grab a couple of goals.

“I wouldn’t have said there's anything that's caused it, but watching a game when you're on the bench is a big part of it, knowing what’s needed when you come on.

“You can probably see a little bit more from the sidelines than when you're on the pitch, there's certain things that happen in games and you think you impact moments there, so when that opportunity arises in a game you're ready to take it.”

Vital contributions from the whole squad will prove key as attention returns to the league, with just eight games remaining of the Championship campaign.

Already settled into the group without a hitch, it’s the unity within the squad that the Saints loanee highlights as an important factor for the final sprint.

“I've said it recently, it's probably the tightest, closest group of lads that I've been around. A bit of adversity on the pitch doesn't affect us and we can rally together,” he explains.

“I think we've shown it in a few games this year, we can come from behind and win. Everyone's going to be needed and we're all going to have to stick together.

“You're always going to get dug out by people and if something happens on the pitch, one of the lads will probably be the first to tell you, but they're obviously just trying to help you, and it's massive that we're all on the same page until the end of the season.”

Viewing this page on a mobile device? Download the Saints app for all the latest news, feature videos and interactive content to get you closer to the action!

Open the Saints app today!