Harwood-Bellis channelling England U21 glory as Southampton target Wembley


There are not too many players who can claim to have won promotion from the Championship two seasons in a row, let alone before the age of 23.

But that is what Taylor Harwood-Bellis has the potential to do within the next fortnight.

The defender – who has been on Manchester City’s books since he was six – was part of the Burnley team that racked up 101 points on the way to the title under Vincent Kompany and is now part of the Southampton team that are one game away from the play-off final at Wembley.

It has already been quite the year, given he also captained England’s U21s to European Championship glory in Georgia and Romania last summer.

But to be in with a chance of capping it, he and his Saints team-mates must better West Brom in Friday night’s play-off semi-final second leg at St Mary’s, which is live on Sky Sports Football.


Friday 17th May 7:00pm


Kick off 8:00pm


It is 0-0 on aggregate after last Sunday’s first leg many would class as a stereotypically cagey encounter, though Harwood-Bellis did not see it that way.

“We didn’t go into the game cautious or anything like that,” he tells Sky Sports at Southampton’s Staplewood training ground.

“We just wanted to play our stuff, score goals and keep a clean sheet, as that’s what we’ve tried to do, no matter what the game. We were under the cosh for the first 15 minutes and had it in our minds that we weren’t going to concede.

“It ended up looking a bit cagey, watching it back, but, if I’m honest, it didn’t feel like that.

“On the ball, we’ve got many more levels in us regarding beating their press, staying in their half for longer and maintaining the attacks. We’ve got more in our locker and we can be much better at that, but we can be proud of the defensive performance and the way we dug in.

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Highlights of West Brom’s clash with Southampton in the Championship play-off semi-final.

“It was difficult as it was a hot day and the pitch dried up quickly, so we couldn’t really have the slick passing we were used to. There’s more to come from us.”

It is now a one-game shootout; almost like a final in itself, given the prize at stake: a place in what is seen as the richest game in football.

So it will come as no surprise the 22-year-old is hoping to draw on past experience to progress.

“These are the games I love the most,” he says. “I played in the Euros final with the England U21s and that was probably one of the best games I’ve played in.

“The feeling going into it and at the end of it was unreal. I thrive off those games and I’d like to think the lads do as well from the vibes in training and around the place.

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Harwood-Bellis captained England U21 to European Championship glory last summer

“Having that experience of playing in a game that you win or lose will help. It [the Euros final] was a big game, but with this game, if you lose, you’ve not got a chance of getting promoted and if you win, you’re going to Wembley for another shootout – the magnitude is much different.

“I’m sure the fans will bring their voices. They’ve been there all season and to have the extra few per cent from them, making the atmosphere quite hostile, will be unreal. We’ll bring the energy on the pitch and hopefully they can feed on that.”

It will also certainly help that Southampton manager Russell Martin has been there himself.

The 38-year-old former Scotland international was fortunate enough to win promotion from League Two once, League One twice and the Championship twice – the second instance of which saw him captain Norwich to victory over Middlesbrough at Wembley.

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Southampton boss Russell Martin says he’s ‘delighted’ his team was able to come away from their Championship play-off semi-final against West Brom with a clean sheet.

There is clearly a lot of admiration from Harwood-Bellis towards his manager. “He’s played in play-offs; he’s played the away leg first, the home leg second and he knows exactly how it feels. He’s played on the hot day in the first leg with the dry pitch.

“He’s been there and lived it, so he knows how it feels for us and can sympathise with us on the pitch. For us to try and stay level-headed throughout the season, he’s been really important.

“I’ve played everywhere I’ve gone and I have to thank every manager for that, but the gaffer has put an arm round me and helped me out that way. He’s been really warm with that and I appreciate it.”

When he joined the club on loan in September, Harwood-Bellis recalled playing against Martin’s Swansea teams in the past. “They were difficult to break down! I thought playing in one would be good, but this year has probably exceeded my expectations.

“I didn’t think there was too much to learn in terms of playing on the ball after what I did last year [with Burnley], but I’ve learned so much without the ball and with the ball as well, more that I thought I would.”

Back to the task at hand, has Harwood-Bellis dared to dream of more success and another medal to add to his growing collection?

“I’d like to lie and say no, but it has crossed my mind,” he adds, openly.

“It’s crossed my mind getting promoted and it crossed my mind getting automatic promotion, but that didn’t happen. I’ve got to go and make it happen – the team’s got to go and make it happen – and hopefully, by the end of May, I can look in the mirror and say to myself that I’ve been promoted twice in two seasons.

“But we’ve got a tough game on Friday against a tough side and that’s all I can focus on.

The 22-year-old has been on Man City's books since the age of six
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The 22-year-old has been on Man City’s books since the age of six

“I’ve never played at Wembley. I’ve been there loads watching City and it would be unreal to play there. It’s going to be tough to get there, but we’ll give it all we’ve got.”

Whatever the result on Friday night, this is a young man who has developed as much as he can in the Championship and is ready to take the next step.

If Saints go up, they have an obligation to pay Man City £20m for his signature – on a permanent basis.

“I felt like I was ready to go and play in the Premier League in the summer, but the opportunity wasn’t there.

“I’m here now and I couldn’t possibly have asked for it to have worked out any better than it has. I’m hopefully going to play in the Premier League under this manager, which is something I’d be very proud of.”

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