Mark Hughes backed his Southampton players to defy their critics and end the season on a high after they beat Wigan Athletic 2-0 in his first game as manager.
Goals from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Cedric Soares helped the Saints overcome League One Wigan in their FA Cup quarter-final at DW Stadium, Hughes’ men improving dramatically in the second half to turn the game in their favour.
Southampton remain third bottom of the Premier League, but Hughes told reporters he was excited by what he had seen from his new charges in his first week at St Mary’s.
“Today was a game where we could take the maximum we needed in terms of positivity and we’ve been able to do that,” said Hughes.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) March 18, 2018
“But we had to show a lot of the qualities and traits that a good team has to show on a regular basis – maybe that hasn’t been sustained prior to me coming to the club.
“In the short time I’ve been with them I’ve seen good quality, good application, and a group of players who are maybe a little bit hurt by criticism of themselves as individuals and as a group, and I think today we saw steps to address those criticisms.”
Southampton travel to West Ham and Arsenal for their next two league fixtures before facing Chelsea at home, and Hughes said that progress in the FA Cup would bring benefits on the training ground.
“This was an important fixture,” he said. “We’ve had the benefit of this game.
“Clearly our Premier League status is a huge concern to us. We want to retain that and that’s a big part of the remit I’ve got at the moment.
“It helps me with the group. You want a bit of positivity and a bit of validation.
“I’m excited by the group. The raw talent is there.”
Wigan boss Paul Cook, whose side knocked Premier League leaders Manchester City out of the cup in the previous round, brushed off the defeat and praised his players.
The Latics are third in League One and making a concerted push for promotion to the Championship.
“I was worried at half-time that we hadn’t scored after playing so well,” said Cook.
“It’s so disappointing to come so close to Wembley. But I’m so proud of the lads, we’ve represented League One very well, and our focus now is solely on promotion.”
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