Aribo and Southampton beat Ajayi’s West Brom to qualify for Championship play-off final

Super Eagles midfielder Joe Aribo is one step closer to returning to the Premier League after Southampton defeated West Bromwich Albion in the semi-final of the Championship playoffs.

The Saints secured their place in the play-off final after cruising to a 3-1 victory at St. Mary’s on Friday evening. Russell Martin’s side had drawn goalless with West Brom in the first leg last week, but finished the job at home against the Baggies.

Aribo was named in the starting XI as Southampton made their intent clear from the blast of the referee’s whistle. The Saints dominated the early exchanges but couldn’t find a breakthrough in the first half despite carving out some first-half chances.

The deadlock was finally broken just four minutes after the half-time break, when a nice interplay between David Brooks and Will Smallbone led to the latter striking the ball into the back of the net. Adam Armstrong made it 2-0 in the 78th minute and would add a third eight minutes later from the penalty spot.

Southampton were, however, denied a clean sheet after Cedric Kipre scored West Brom’s consolation goal late in the game. Aribo once again had a great game in the middle of the park, and was replaced by Shea Charles in the 90th minute, walking off to a standing ovation from the home fans.

Joe Aribo and Southampton to face Leeds United in Championship playoff final

The Nigeria international will now have the chance to fight for promotion to the Premier League when Southampton face Leeds United in the Championship play-off final. The Saints will come up against Daniel Farke’s side on 26 May at Wembley.

Aribo didn’t start the season particularly well and was restricted to very few games at the beginning of the campaign. However, he has been back in favour since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024) in Ivory Coast, where he helped Nigeria to secure a runner-up finish.

The 27-year-old has now made 39 appearances in all competitions while contributing four goals and an assist this season. He has also grown into a key player for Southampton, and is now one of the first names on manager Martin’s team sheet.

With the club’s most important game of the season set to be played in a week’s time, Martin will once again be counting on Aribo when his side faces Leeds United, who also thrashed Norwich City 4-0 to book their place in the play-off final.

Why Aribo’s continuous stay at Southampton depends on Premier League promotion 

Meanwhile, Southampton’s result in the play-off final could determine where Aribo plays next season. The Nigerian was signed by the Saints from Rangers for a sum of £10 million in 2022.

Although the midfielder has two years left on his contract, he has been linked with a move away in the past. Before the season started, Aribo was reportedly on the radar of Serie A side Verona and Turkish club Besiktas.

The interest in the player may have cooled in recent months, but he is unlikely to accept to play in the Championship for one more year. Aribo did not leave Southampton when the club was relegated from the Premier League in 2022/23 and rather proved his commitment by staying.

However, should Southampton fail to secure promotion to the Premier League, the Super Eagles star could start considering his options. At 27, the midfielder is already in his prime, and would favour playing in a top league rather than spending another year in the English second tier.

Aribo’s impressive form at club level means he is in line to be invited for Nigeria’s upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against South Africa and Benin, as the Super Eagles aim to recover from their winless start in their group. 

Aribo and Southampton beat Ajayi’s West Brom to qualify for Championship play-off final
Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is an Asante Kotoko fan and a passionate sports journalist with a little over five years of experience writing about African football.

His articles and features have been published in renowned news media like The Guardian, DW, Al Jazeera and Sportskeeda. His bylines can also be found in the UK journals World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.