Mark Hughes encouraged by Southampton's resilience in first game
Mark Hughes believes he has seen traits that Southampton can take with them into a Premier League relegation battle after his new side defeated Wigan 2-0 to reach the semifinals of the FA Cup.
After the League One side dominated the first half, Southampton stepped up their level after the break and scored through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Cedric Soares, while Manolo Gabbiadini also had a penalty saved by Christian Walton.
Before Hughes can think about Wembley -- the south-coast club were drawn to face Chelsea in the last four -- he must try to turn around Southampton's form in the league, where they have won just once in the last 17 games and sit two points from safety.
"This was an important fixture," Hughes said. "Clearly our Premier League status is a huge concern to us and we want to retain that and that is a big part of the remit I have."
Hughes said he was pleased with his players' positivity and that they demonstrated the traits they will need in order to ward off relegation.
"In the short time I've been with them I have seen good quality, good application and a group of players who have maybe been a little bit hurt by criticism," Hughes said. "I think today maybe you saw steps to address that criticism.
"I have the utmost respect for Paul [Cook] and his team. I thought they were excellent. We knew they would test us. I just felt we made good decisions today, certainly in the second half."
The goal by Hojbjerg in the second half was crucial to Southampton turning around their form, Hughes said.
"I wanted us to be a bit more dominant and play in the opposition half," he said. "Getting in front was important for us. We could have made it more comprehensive but that would have been hard on them. We are delighted we got a positive result."
Hughes, who was sacked by Stoke City in January and has only been given a contract until the end of the season after replacing Mauricio Pellegrino, said he is looking forward to the challenge of keeping Southampton up.
"It's not going to be easy," Hughes said. "It's a short-term deal but it's a good start for everybody. I am excited by the group. I think there's good quality. The raw talent is there."
Wigan had defeated three Premier League teams in reaching their third FA Cup quarterfinal in six seasons, including Manchester City in the last round.
Given Southampton's struggles, they looked more than capable of causing another upset. It was not to be, and now they must focus on their promotion bid.
"It is a difficult one when the prize is so great for a club like ours," Cook said. "I was fearful at half-time because I felt we had played that well in the first half and hadn't got enough out of the game. You're wary of Southampton's quality, they've got some outstanding individuals.
"Second half, I thought the game was quite scrappy, although Southampton certainly grew into the game. Did they deserve the victory? I think it was a little bit harsh on us, but we certainly wish Southampton well in the semifinals."