SAINTS goalkeeper Alex McCarthy has lifted the lid on his surprise return to the starting lineup ahead of the playoff final.

The 34 year old, who is in the final weeks of his Southampton contract, admitted this season has been largely frustrating due to his lack of playing time.

He made a surprise return to the starting lineup in April when first-choice goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu ruptured his Achilles tendon ahead of facing Preston.

Two-time England international McCarthy had not been named in the initial squad but jumped ahead of Joe Lumley in the pecking order.

That was his first league start of the season, but he has since nailed down his spot in goal and is expected to play a key role at Wembley this afternoon.

Speaking to Southampton's club media, McCarthy explained how pleased he is to be back between the sticks during the crucial stage of the season.

He said: "It's a very important time for the club. It's been frustrating for me this season. I've come in every day to support the lads and kept my standards as high as possible.

"Although I haven't been playing, I've been training properly and trying to improve in different areas.

"To come back into the team at this crucial part of the season has been enjoyable. There is a lot riding on it.

Daily Echo: A fan congratulates Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy A fan congratulates Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy (Image: PA)

"I wasn't even in the squad and then the next thing I'm playing. Sometimes those situations are a good thing.

"You don't have any time to think about things, you are straight into the firing line. It was a bit of a shock, but I'm enjoying being back playing with the boys.

"We have got a big game, I'm feeling very confident about that. To get the club back to the Premier League, where it should be, would be a massive achievement."

Since returning as number one, McCarthy has drawn praise from Russell Martin and supporters for his shot-stopping ability.

He made two crucial saves at West Brom in the playoff semi-final to ensure Saints took a clean sheet into the second leg at St Mary's.

He made more important saves in the second leg, which Saints won 3-1, and now feels the group's confidence is high ahead of a final showdown against Leeds.

"We were a little bit frustrated with a few of the results before the Leeds game - losing to Stoke and that.

"Going to Leeds and getting that result on the last day of the season was a massive boost. The gaffer has come here and changed the culture.

"He has brought everyone together. There is so much belief in the group. I think the style of football we play would be a big threat in the Premier League.

"Everyone wants to get there. It's the biggest league in the world. We have been there before. We know this is a massive game.

"You can see that everyone is ready and raring to go from the levels in training this week. We are looking forward to it."