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Watt View - The Play off Special
Friday, 31st May 2024 07:45 by Matt Watts

It has been a while, but Matt Watts has taken to the laptop to give his thoughts on the play off win at Wembley and the season in general, as usual it is a very balanced view of the situation and it is good to have him back.

It is going to take some time to come off the high of victory in the EFL Championship play-off final.

What an occasion. What a result. What a club. I have seen and heard so many accounts of fans in tears at the final whistle and I was no different. The emotion was overwhelming, perfectly summed up by the reaction of club legend Franny Benali at full-time which has been circulating on social media.

The utter elation, the scenes, the songs, the colours, the celebrations and the memories that all created will truly last a lifetime and, as fans, it is an experience we have all shared as one. I have no doubt it has brought everyone closer together and it will be interesting to see how that plays out next season.

After the disaster of relegation from the Premier League and the mess the club was in at that point, it was difficult to see how we could bounce back quickly from such depths of football despair.

To go from that dark place to the scenes witnessed so often through the course of the season - and particularly against West Brom in the play-off semi-final and at Wembley - is nothing short of miraculous.

This is a club united again and tremendous praise must be given to all involved, including the immense efforts of all supporters which was so evident on Sunday and has sent shivers down many a spine.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to reflect on the day’s events at Wembley on behalf of The Ugly Inside on Sky Sports News Monday ahead of the promotion party at St Mary’s.

While it was inevitably easy to be so upbeat after such a momentous and joyous event, what I wanted to convey was just how much the positive influence of manager Russell Martin has reverberated around the club and among the supporters.

His conduct, attitude and approach alone - aside from the football - if reflective of exactly the type of individual you want to represent your club. Respect is not something that comes easy to everyone, but he is an example of how you can make it a symbol of your character - and of the impact it can have.

The gravity of the task he took on at the time simply cannot be underestimated. He wasn’t just taking on the job of restoring a football team to the top flight. He was tasked by the ownership to lead a complete transformation of feeling and relations with the fans.

Faith and belief in owners Sport Republic had been severely damaged at the time by both the initial transfer policy implemented and the appointment and reign of Nathan Jones. This was no fault of Martin but he arrived with that burden as a backdrop.

His infectious enthusiasm, coolness and determination to persevere - sometimes in the face of concern and discontent among fans who were still scarred by the recent past - has been unrelenting and it has been rewarded with the biggest prize of them all.

But promotion itself and football aside, the revolution he has led - on behalf of and with the support of Sport Republic it must be said - in bringing such pride and togetherness to the fan base has been simply astounding and many will be in awe of what he has achieved.

His personal approach and man management has also led to the point where the satisfaction he has ingrained among the players has fuelled a new and genuine connection with the supporters in a way not experienced for some time now (and what feels like even longer after the pain of what came before).

I for one had my doubts upon hearing the requests from the ownership after relegation to retain belief that they had a feasible plan to make right the wrongs of the previous season. I will happily eat my words having been given the opportunity to witness the history we took in at the national stadium.

While it is undoubtedly a nerve-wracking game of roulette to have everything at stake in that final, if you emerge victorious it must surely be one of the very best occasions to be part of in world football.

Not only have we managed to enjoy such success this season, both on and off the field, the manner in which it has been handled instils a real sense of confidence ahead of the first season back in the toughest but best league in the world.

Rumours are and will continue to swirl about the comings and goings that are likely (or often unlikely) to occur but, for once, there feels a sense of relaxation around being confident the management and ownership have a plan we can be confident in.

It bodes well for a summer of basking in the glory of success of the play-off final victory and looking forward to embarking on a campaign back where we know we belong.

Photo: Action Images

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SalisburySaint added 08:06 - May 31
Martins approach right from the start got most fans behind him.

This was evident at the Reading friendly, when I along with 3k Saints fans attended, a before kick off he came out to applaud the Saints fans, instantly getting them on his side.

Let’s hope our fans keep with him next season, it’s going to be tough, but if we can finish 17th or above ain’t will be a success imo

SanMarco added 11:47 - May 31
It felt to me like winning the cup. I see it as a glorious one-off event like May 1976 was (although perhaps less of a shock result!)

The encouraging thing for me is that over the play-offs, and in the game at Leeds before that, RM has shown signs of adapting his style. Whatever we have thought about RM over the whole season we must all agree that he has succeeded in doing what he was appointed to do. To keep the fans with him he will need to keep learning and adapting.

We all feel good at the moment and even people like me, who have been critical of RM at times, should embrace the part that he has played in us now feeling happy. Who knows what the future holds but I am going to keep smiling for a few days yet. For me that game has been added to May 76, Fratton 84, the LC semi at Anfield and the 4-0 in the cup vs Hoddle's Spurs, my all-time favourite games.

Chesham_Saint added 16:32 - May 31
Enjoyed reading that Matt, thanks. However, I think you’ve way overdone the hyperbole with regard to Martin.

I admit, I don’t much care for the man, but he has done the job he was employed to do, so big kudos to him. But…

Isn’t every club that gets relegated in complete turmoil? Saints are for from unique in that. Also, almost every relegated club has to face huge challenges in terms of the loss of players and recruitment. A big challenge for sure and which he overcame, (just) but that wasn’t an unreasonable expectation.

In short, I would expect a very good manager to have got us promoted with the players and resources at his disposal at SFC. I’m not saying it was easy, far from it, but it is also far from a unique achievement. Much more impressive for me is the guy at Ipswich, but the bottom line is Russell did what he was employed to and and massive thanks to him for that.

Bowlercow added 16:45 - May 31
RM said from the off that the most important people in any club were the fans He then made sure to inform and include them as much as he could.
His pre match appearances were regular and his celebrations with the fans were all designed to make us feel included
I've loved the season and hope that SR now back him and get in players who can play this style at the highest level

Colburn added 18:46 - May 31
Good article Matt, totally agree that Martin has been amazing for us, changing the mentality to a winning one full of belief and fun. The style of play is attractive and this after a huge team rebuild.
Chesham Saint, I have no idea what you’re talking about.. No relegation doesn’t signify a club in turmoil, I don’t think that’s the case for Luton, Burnley or Sheffield United this year. However, we were in turmoil, coming bottom with boring football and a green looking ownership after 3 failed managers in the season. We then had our spine removed and you only have to look at who started at the weekend compared to last season. Only really Armstrong and KWP survived and McCarthy has only recently been involved. Smallbone was on loan, THB loan in, Downes loan in, Fraser loan in, Stephens was out on loan, Aribo non existent, Brooks loan in.. So we lost Lavia and JWP etc and had to replace them and completely rebuild apart from a few. Leicester kept more of their spine and experience and Ipswich were like us in 2012. No shock considering how highly their manager is rated and the experience he has from Spurs and Man U..
So to turn so much around and unite 99% of the fans, play attractive football and show the know how at the crunch to get us through the playoffs is a phenomenal achievement. I doff my cap.
In Russell we have an energetic, passionate and smart man at the helm and I’m confident his ways will keep us in the Prem beyond next season.

Chesham_Saint added 13:54 - Jun 1
Spine removed? No Bednarek, Stuart Armstrong, Adams then? You're entitled to your point of view Colburn, as am I.

For me, Martin's done a good job, nothing more and I wish him every success for next season.

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