'Bring it on!' - fans react to Southampton's promotion

Brothers Ben (left) and Ed Robinson celebrate Southampton's immediate return to the Premier League
Brothers Ben (left) and Ed Robinson were among the 85,962 at Wembley - a higher figure than the 84.814 there for Saturday's FA Cup final [BBC Sport]

There were scenes of unbridled joy among Southampton's fans when referee John Brooks blew the final whistle to confirm their immediate return to the Premier League.

Adam Armstrong, whose goal earned his side a 1-0 win over Leeds in the Championship play-off final, ripped his shirt off and ran more than half the length of the pitch to celebrate with jubilant Saints supporters.

Fans streamed out of Wembley singing 'When the Saints Go Marching In' but as the dust began to settle, one question was already being asked: will Southampton have enough to stay up next season?

"It's absolutely brilliant we're up but I'm filled with trepidation as well," Roger Lacey, who has supported the Saints for 50 years, told BBC Sport.

"I feel we will beat some teams but I also think we'll be ripped apart by others."

Southampton join Leicester City and Ipswich Town, who both secured automatic promotion, in the top flight next season.

But are the Saints better equipped than Leicester and Ipswich to stay up and avoid a quick return to the Championship?

'Gap is getting bigger and bigger'

Southampton boss Russell Martin celebrates with fans after the Saints win promotion back to the Premier League
Southampton boss Russell Martin replaced Ruben Selles when he was appointed in June 2023 [Reuters]

All three of last season's promoted clubs suffered an immediate return to the second tier for only the second time in Premier League history.

Luton Town, Burnley and Sheffield United managed a combined total of only 66 points.

"The gap is getting bigger and bigger," former Brighton and Crystal Palace striker Glenn Murray told BBC Sport.

Southampton, under boss Russell Martin, are returning to the Premier League despite finishing 10 points behind Leicester and nine behind Ipswich.

But Leicester boss Enzo Maresca continues to be linked with a move away while the Foxes were charged by the Premier League in March for alleged breaches of profit and sustainability rules.

Ipswich are also unsure if their manager Kieran McKenna will still be in charge at the start of next season as he is likely to reject any new deal offered by the Suffolk club amid interest from Chelsea and Brighton.

"I'm confident our manager will stay and with the right additions, we've got a fighting chance of staying up," Saints fan Sam Farley said outside Wembley.

"Our manager likes possession-based football. It's high risk, high reward."

Recruitment will be key to Southampton's chances of staying up.

The loan deal for impressive defender Taylor Harwood-Bellis now turns into a £20m permanent move from Manchester City as a result of their play-off win.

"Hopefully we can now turn Flynn Downes' loan from West Ham into a permanent signing," added Farley.

Supporters, however, are resigned to losing key forward Che Adams, whose contract expires at the end of June and who has been linked with Wolves.

"Finding a good replacement for Adams is important," said Farley.

'We're in a better place'

Southampton fans celebrate promotion at Wembley
Southampton, founder members of the Premier League in 1992, will now begin a third spell in the division [PA Media]

Southampton's most recent season in the Premier League was a miserable experience as they went down after finishing bottom with 25 points, 11 from safety, in 2022-23.

But there are many fans who are optimistic the club can establish themselves back in the top flight.

"It's fantastic that we're going up and I'm so excited for next season," said Saints fan Ben Robinson, who was at Wembley with his brother Ed.

"We have a fantastic manager is Russell Martin, a strong fanbase and a lot of momentum behind the club.

"Ideally, we'll make some good purchases this summer."

Boss Martin was managing in League One three years ago but will now get a chance to test himself against the likes of Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta after winning promotion in his first season in charge.

"We are in a much better place as a club than we were two years ago," said Ed Robinson.

"You can see how much the team plays for the manager. We didn't have all the possession against Leeds but we didn't let it get to us. I'm encouraged by the way we play under him."

Southampton now have 83 days to prepare the start of the 2024-25 season on 17 August.

"Bring it on," added Ed.