MANAGER Russell Martin insisted Will Smallbone is already a "top player" for Southampton after they beat West Brom 3-1 to reach the Championship playoff final.

The academy graduate gave Saints the lead early in the second half when he fired in a brilliant long-range shot, leaving Alex Palmer with little chance.

It was the Irish international's seventh goal of the season and his second in three games, having also scored Southampton's winner at Leeds United.

Smallbone's goal was greeted by a chant of "he's one of our own" from the raucous Southampton supporters inside St Mary's.

Martin admitted his pride in seeing Smallbone score such an important goal and commended the midfielder for his growth this season.

Martin told the Daily Echo: "He's been so good. To hear the fans singing his name when he came off (was amazing), as was the performance he put in.

"I've said to you a few times, it's been one of the greatest privileges of my career to watch Will grow and turn into what he's turned into

"(He is) selfless. (He) runs so much. He's developing an aggressive side (to his game) now, out of possession, which I really love to see. 

"He's going to be a top, top player for this club. He already is. He's such a valued member of the team by his teammates.

"He is so well-liked because of what he does. He's been an absolute star. Like everyone else, now he has to go again."