Winning my way is 'best way' - Saints boss Martin

Southampton's manager Russell Martin applauds his side's travelling supporters at the end of the Championship play-off final
Russell Martin has won promotion for the first time as a manager [Getty Images]

Southampton head coach Russell Martin says his side need to "embrace the challenge" of playing his style of football in the Premier League next season.

Saints earned promotion back to the top flight at the first time of asking after a 1-0 victory over Leeds United in the Championship play-off final on Sunday.

Martin has come under scrutiny for his possession-based mantra during the Championship season, especially when Saints started the campaign slowly.

"I know possession won't win you games," said Martin after his side's Wembley success.

"But it is a vehicle for us to give ourselves the best opportunity to show the best version of ourselves, I really believe that.

"If you win this way, to me it is the best way, not the right or wrong way but it's the best."

Southampton ended the Championship season in fourth position, beating West Bromwich Albion over two legs before seeing off Leeds in the final.

As the campaign progressed, the players at St Mary's grew more comfortable with their head coach's style, enjoying a club-record 25-game unbeaten run.

Martin will be a Premier League boss for the first time next season - he was managing MK Dons in League One as recently as the 2019-20 campaign.

Indeed, his highest finish as a manager before this season was 10th place with Swansea in the second tier last year.

"I feel really emotional and overwhelmed by the support I have had over the last nine or 10 months, especially in the tough times," Martin told Sky Sports.

"For them [Southampton] to give me the job in the first place, I felt like I had to do this to justify and validate it so I'm so pleased for them because it wasn't an exciting appointment for them. To take me on was really brave."

Come August, Martin will face the prospect of trips to Etihad Stadium, Anfield and Emirates Stadium, and tasked with trying to stop some of the most talented teams in world football.

"It's up to us to prove ourselves in the Premier League next season," added the 38-year-old, who played in the top flight with Norwich City.

"The style is something that myself and my players believe in, I won't change and I love what I do.

"We'll need to embrace the challenge without losing who we are."

Martin needs credit - Tessem

Russell Martin (right) celebrates Southampton's promotion
Russell Martin (right) celebrates Southampton's promotion [PA Media]

Former Southampton midfielder Jo Tessem says Martin deserves full credit after achieving promotion in his first full season at St Mary's.

Tessem, BBC Radio Solent's expert summariser covering Southampton, scored 16 goals in 130 appearances for the club between 1999 and 2004.

"You have to give Martin credit," Tessem told BBC Sport.

"He has brought a new style of football and formation to Southampton which the players have learned and got better at as the season has gone on.

"He has used the style of football perfectly for the players that he has got in the squad."

However, Tessem feels slight adjustments to Martin's style will be needed come next season.

Across 46 Championship games this season, Saints conceded 63 goals.

But defender Taylor Harwood-Bellis will now sign permanently for £20m - and on-loan West Ham midfielder Flynn Downes is another player Southampton hope to keep.

"Martin will need to be a bit smarter with his style next season," Tessem added.

"It all depends on the type of players he manages to buy for the Premier League - the position the club are in with the players is very good though.

"They can see what players will fit in next season, they will need to consider if the current players are good enough and where the squad can be added to that makes Saints even better."

Former Southampton defender Francis Benali, meanwhile, hailed the "outstanding job" Martin has done.

Benali made more than 300 appearances for the club and was granted freedom of the city back in 2016.

"There's a real identity to how the team play," he told the Football Daily 72+ podcast.

"It's been exciting to watch Saints this season and the vast majority of supporters have loved that connection he has with the supporters and his staff and the team.

"There's a real positivity and I see him hopefully being here for many years.

"If anything, there's a little bit of a worry that he has done that well - as we know only too well and Southampton have been in this position before, whether it's top players or top managers, other clubs start getting interested in what they do."

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Martin's style can 'bring progress every fan craves'

However, Martin's brand of possession-based football has not been universally acclaimed at his previous clubs.

After winning 30 of his 80 games in charge at MK Dons to finish 19th and 13th in League One, he followed that up with 36 wins and 36 defeats at Swansea, while ending up 15th and 10th in the Championship.

Swans fans had got used to their side playing with a swagger in recent times under Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers, Michael Laudrup and Graham Potter, and reached the Championship play-off final under Steve Cooper just before Martin's arrival.

BBC Wales football correspondent Rob Phillips said Martin "polarised the faithful" in south Wales - but promotion with the Saints justified his methods.

"He has finally confirmed that zealous adherence to his possession-based football principles can bring success," added Phillips.

"At Swansea City, disciples of his method would relish the passing style and the enjoyment it brought when done well.

"The agnostics sometimes enjoyed the spectacle, but pointed to no end product – namely no promotion nor silverware.

"Southampton's triumph, admittedly with greater resources than he had at the Swans, has vindicated his beliefs and shows the Martin style of 'Total Football' can bring the progress every fan craves.

"Now the Martin method faces its ultimate test in the Premier League."