“Outstanding” Will Smallbone poised to play important role for Southampton after perfect start to season

“Outstanding” Will Smallbone poised to play important role for Southampton after perfect start to season

Republic of Ireland midfielder Will Smallbone was hailed by his manager after Southampton’s 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday.

Will Smallbone was hailed as “outstanding” by Southampton manager Russell Martin following his influential performance against Sheffield Wednesday on Friday night.

Smallbone played in a deeper than usual midfield position but was “amazingly clean technically” as he set the tempo with 142 crisp passes in the 2-1 win.

The 23-year-old’s composure and game intelligence ensured that 96% of those passes found a teammate and his work off the ball wasn’t half bad either.

Russell Martin praises Will Smallbone performance.

“Will put the rhythm in the team,” Martin explained after his first win as Southampton manager.

“He was amazingly clean technically and he helped out a lot defensively, he made a lot of interceptions today.

The stats book reads that Smallbone completed one tackle, recovered possession five times and won 3/6 ground duels.

It felt like more – possibly because his interventions came at key junctures in the contest – but in any case, his ability to sniff out danger in front of the Saints back four was for all to see.

Ireland supporters worry that the team is too reliant on Josh Cullen in that disciplined midfield position, but Smallbone’s showing on Friday night should ease concerns to some degree.

While it is a role that can only be mastered through repetition,  Smallbone looked competent enough to win huge praise from his manager and Saints supporters.

According to Martin he will be played in a few different parts of the pitch this campaign, but he will surely be frequently deployed as a deep-lying playmaker having made such an impression in round one.

Smallbone pass

“He’s a really outstanding footballer and his performances so far have justified why I wanted to sign him at Swansea – so we must have got one right,” Martin continued.

“He will play in different roles for us as well. He really is a gifted footballer with some good Championship experience after last season.

“I hope he enjoyed that tonight because I really enjoyed watching him.”

Perfect start.

Certainly nice words for Smallbone to hear from his new boss – his comments about chasing the midfielder’s signature last year being particularly interesting.

Following some cruel injury-plagued seasons, Smallbone showed his potential with a decent loan spell at Stoke City in the 2022/2023 season. Stoke, rather than Martin’s Swansea.

After starting slowly, his performances followed an escalating trend – as confidence grew so too did his displays. The creativity he sprinkled for the Ireland under-21s last summer revealed itself as he became increasingly important for the Potters.

A hat-trick of assists on March 4th proved the highlight of his Stoke spell and it was backed up by a Man of the Match display for Ireland against Latvia three weeks later.

He and Matt Doherty linked up excellently down the right-hand side that night and his invention earned him a place in Stephen Kenny’s future squads.

Admittedly, his summer performances up against Greece and Gibraltar were less impressive. His limited influence showed he still has clear room for improvement, but it now seems – under the guidance of the progressive and complimentary Russel Martin – that he is in the perfect spot to slowly sculpt himself into the dynamic midfielder needed by club and country.

Ireland’s Josh Cullen became the courageous midfielder Burnley needed to win the Championship last season. Perhaps Smallbone could achieve something similar with Southampton this year.

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