Hughes guides Saints to safety, but is lam­basted by Stoke

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

IT says much about an event­ful sea­son for Mark Hughes that in a week dur­ing which he has won so much praise for al­most cer­tainly keep­ing Southamp­ton in the Pre­mier League, he has also found him­self be­ing blamed for tak­ing his pre­vi­ous team down.

On the day Saints won their cru­cial rel­e­ga­tion show­down with Swansea City, Hughes’ pre­vi­ous club Stoke City, who had their rel­e­ga­tion con­firmed last week­end, re­leased a state­ment from their own­ers sug­gest­ing they should have sacked him ear­lier.

“It is right that sup­port­ers will ques­tion whether we should have made a man­age­rial change sooner,” said Pe­ter and John Coates, who got rid of Hughes in Jan­uary. “With hind­sight, we per­haps should have made an ear­lier change.”

Stoke fans ac­cused Hughes, who was axed with the club in the rel­e­ga­tion zone, of fail­ing to or­gan­ise or mo­ti­vate a tal­ented squad who un­der-per­formed amid re­ports of ill-dis­ci­pline and open re­volt. Few sup­port­ers be­moaned his de­par­ture. To­moor­row (All games 4pm)

Yet within hours of the Coates’ barbed state­ment, Hughes was lauded by one of his new play­ers for his trans­for­ma­tive work at Southamp­ton.

Oriol Romeu said that Hughes “made a huge dif­fer­ence” since re­plac­ing Mauri­cio Pel­le­grino in March, over­see­ing two wins and two draws in their past four league games.

“He has been pos­i­tive and tried to make us bet­ter play­ers and a bet­ter team. He has done it and put ev­ery­one to­gether.”

In other words, Hughes was ac­claimed for do­ing ex­actly what he was ac­cused of fail­ing to achieve at Stoke.

As a man­ager in his 19th year who has been in charge of six clubs and the Welsh na­tional team, Hughes will ap­pre­ci­ate the irony of his si­t­u­a­tion.

He was once sacked by Manch­ester City, who Southamp­ton face on Sun­day, for be­ing un­likely to cope with the su­per­stars they planned to sign even though few of them had a play­ing ca­reer as stel­lar as the one Hughes en­joyed.

At yes­ter­day’s pre- match me­dia con­fer­ence, Hughes did not want to hark back to a re­la­tion­ship at Stoke that ended in some ac­ri­mony, pre­fer­ring to stress in­stead that Southamp­ton are not yet com­pletely safe.

“On Tues­day night ev­ery­one stepped up,” he said. “Be­ing de­struc­tive is more easy to ac­com­plish than to go out there and win, es­pe­cially in the Pre­mier League.

“The win at Swansea was a big step but not the fi­nal step. The fo­cus and com­mit­ment has been un­wa­ver­ing ever since and we’ll be ready to go again on Sun­day. To­day I wanted to see the same fo­cus we dis­played [at Swansea].”

Yet it would take a sport­ing earth­quake for Saints to fail now, given the three points and plus-nine goal dif­fer­ence that sep­a­rate them from Swansea, who need to win well against Stoke and hope Saints im­plode against Pep Guardi­ola’s cham­pi­ons.

Another win would round off City’s tri­umphant sea­son nicely by mak­ing them the first team to reach 100 points in a sea­son, which Guardi­ola be­lieves is in­cen­tive enough for them not to re­lax.

For Hughes, whose con­tract ex­pires at the end of the seaosn, another huge ef­fort is re­quired be­fore the sub­ject of his own per­sonal fu­ture can be raised.

“I to­tally un­der­stand that the club need to know where they are go­ing to be next sea­son. They are a very good club, a very well-run club.”

Asked if he would like to stay on, he smiled and said: “It would be a very good op­por­tu­nity for who­ever gets it.”

Even if he does not, he can con­sole him­self with the re­ported £ 1- mil­lion pound bonus he will re­ceive for keep­ing them up which, given where he was in Jan­uary, would rep­re­sent a re­mark­able out­come to a sea­son that had gone sour.

● Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino said the club should be in a cel­e­bra­tory mood af­ter se­cur­ing a Cham­pi­ons League place for the third suc­ces­sive sea­son de­spite another tro­phy­less cam­paign.

The north Lon­don club have guar­an­teed a top-four Pre­mier League fin­ish ahead of to­mor­row’s fi­nal match against Le­ices­ter City, but once again failed to pick up any sil­ver­ware.

Af­ter suf­fer­ing an FA Cup semi-fi­nal de­feat to Manch­ester United and ex­it­ing this sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League at the hands of Ju­ven­tus in the last 16, Tot­ten­ham’s fans have en­dured a 10th con­sec­u­tive year with­out win­ning a ma­jor tro­phy.

Po­chet­tino, how­ever, says the club should cel­e­brate what they have achieved.

“At Tot­ten­ham, we have al­ways had that feel­ing that what we have done is not enough,” he told re­porters.

“In the last three years we have achieved mas­sive things at this foot­ball club, like play­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League, but we never cel­e­brate.

“So this time I am go­ing to cel­e­brate with my staff. It is not enough, be­cause we want to win tro­phies and ti­tles, but in foot­ball, win­ning ti­tles is not the only thing - even though this group of peo­ple and fans de­serve some tro­phies.”

Tot­ten­ham will as­sess the fit­ness of full­back Kieran Trip­pier be­fore they face ninth­placed Le­ices­ter at Wem­b­ley.

The 27- year- old Eng­land in­ter­na­tional twisted a knee dur­ing their 1-0 win over New­cas­tle United on Wed­nes­day.

De­fender Serge Aurier (ham­string) and cen­tral mid­fielder Mousa Dem­bele (an­kle) are also a doubt for the week­end. – Reuters

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