Exclusive Interview with Taylor Harwood-Bellis: The Southampton Defender Hopes to Draw on Experience from European Championship Glory as the Saints Set Their Sights on Wembley - Latest Global News

Exclusive Interview with Taylor Harwood-Bellis: The Southampton Defender Hopes to Draw on Experience from European Championship Glory as the Saints Set Their Sights on Wembley

There aren’t too many players who can claim to have achieved promotion from the Championship two seasons in a row, let alone before the age of 23.

But that’s exactly what Taylor Harwood-Bellis has to do over the next two weeks.

The defender, who has been in the Manchester City squad since he was six, was part of the Burnley team that picked up 101 points en route to the title under Vincent Kompany and is now part of the Southampton team that is just one game away The championship away is the play-off final at Wembley Stadium.

It’s been quite a year considering he also captained England’s U21s to European Championship titles in Georgia and Romania last summer.

But to have a chance of victory, he and his Saints teammates must beat West Brom in Friday night’s play-off semi-final second leg at St Mary’s, which takes place live Sky Sports Football.

Friday, May 17, 7:00 p.m

Kick-off is 8:00 p.m


After last Sunday’s first leg, the overall score is 0-0. Many would describe it as a stereotypical, reserved encounter, although Harwood-Bellis didn’t see it that way.

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

“We just wanted to do our best, score goals and keep clean sheets because that’s what we tried to do, no matter the game. We were under pressure for the first 15 minutes and we had that in our heads. We wouldn’t admit it.

“In hindsight it seemed a bit reserved, but if I’m honest it didn’t feel that way.”

“On the ball we have a lot more potential in us when it comes to beating their press, staying in their half longer and sustaining the attacks. We have more in our arsenal and we can be much better at it, but we can be proud of the defensive performance and the way we came through.

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Highlights from 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 out quickly so we couldn’t really play the smooth passes we used to. There’s more to come from us.”

It’s now a one-game shootout; Almost like a final in itself, given the prize at stake: a place in arguably football’s richest game.

So it’s no wonder that the 22-year-old hopes to be able to draw on past experiences to move forward.

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

“The feeling at the beginning and at the end was unreal. I enjoy these games and I would like to think the boys do just as well because of the atmosphere in training and on the pitch.”

Picture:
Harwood-Bellis captained the England Under-21s to the European Championship last summer

“It will be helpful to have the experience of playing in a game where you win or lose [the Euros final] It was a big game but if you lose that game you have no chance of promotion and if you win you go to Wembley for another shootout – the scale is completely different.

“I’m sure the fans will have their voices heard. They have been there all season and it will be unreal to get a few percent more from them, making the atmosphere quite hostile. We’re going to bring the energy on the pitch and hopefully they can feed off that.

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

The 38-year-old former Scotland international was lucky enough to win promotion from League Two once, League One twice and the Championship twice – the second time he captained Norwich and won against Middlesbrough at Wembley.

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Southampton coach Russell Martin says he is “delighted” his team got through the Championship play-off semi-final against West Brom without conceding a goal.

It is clear that Harwood-Bellis has great admiration for his manager. “He played in playoffs; first the away game, then the home game and he knows exactly how that feels. He played on dry grass in the first leg on the hot day.”

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

“I’ve played everywhere I’ve been and I have to thank every manager for that, but the gaffer put his arm around me and helped me in that way. He was very welcoming and I appreciate that.”

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

“After what I did last year, I don’t think there’s much left to learn when it comes to playing the ball.” [with Burnley]But I learned so much without and with the ball, more than I thought.”

Back to the task at hand: Did Harwood-Bellis dare to dream of more success and another medal to add to his growing collection?

“I would like to lie and say no, but it has already crossed my mind,” he adds frankly.

“It did cross my mind to move up and it did cross my mind to get promoted automatically, but that didn’t happen. I have to go and make it happen – the team has to go and make it happen – and hopefully to the end. “In May I can look in the mirror and say to myself that I’ve been promoted twice in two seasons.

“But we have a tough game against a strong team on Friday and that’s all I can concentrate on.”

The 22-year-old has been in the Man City squad since he was six years old
Picture:
The 22-year-old has been in the Man City squad since he was six years old

“I have never played at Wembley Stadium. I’ve been there a lot and watched City and it would be unreal to play there. It will be hard to get there, but we will do everything we can.”

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 the Saints are promoted, they will be obliged to pay Man City £20m permanently for his signing.

“I felt like I was ready to play in the Premier League in the summer but the opportunity didn’t present itself.”

“I’m here now and I couldn’t have wished things had gone better. I will hopefully play in the Premier League under this manager, which I would be very proud of.”

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