Former Stoke City manager Mark Hughes understands why Stoke City went in a different direction this season as the club steered towards relegation, but is also a bit peeved how the fanbase turned on him so quickly.
Hughes, who guided Stoke City to its best-ever Premier League finish three times in a row finishing ninth in the table in 2014, 2015, and 2016, claims that while things ultimately came to an ugly end, those involved with the club shouldn’t have cut him loose with such vengeance.
“It was a difficult season,” said Hughes, now managing Southampton. “I’m a little bit disappointed maybe that the success we had in my four and a half years, it seems to me that part of their history certain people want to airbrush the success we had.”
Hughes was fired with the club in 16th position and one win in its past nine matches. Stoke City executives said they believed in retrospect they had been “too loyal” to Hughes, leading them to keep him longer than was healthy for the club. They also said the club had made “significant errors” in the transfer market which left the squad porous and thin. Even goalkeeper Jack Butland came out to say the club recruitment was “farcical.”
“It’s there for everyone to see I was their most successful Premier League manager. It didn’t end like I wanted it to, nobody wanted that, but every one of my staff and myself put our heart and soul into that job. I’m really sorry that unfortunately they’ve gone out of the league but it can happen to anybody if you take your eye off the ball.”
Southampton manager Mark Hughes‘ impish smile betrayed his steady post-match press conference after Saints nearly cemented their Premier League status with a 1-0 win at Swansea City on Tuesday.
[ RECAP: Swans 0-1 Saints ]
Saints saw their Welsh hotel reservations canceled due to a virus before the match, sending them well outside Swansea for their stay.
A Welshman himself, Hughes couldn’t resist a comment.
“We suspected that maybe some of the dark arts at work but it didn’t let us affect us, in fact we used it as a motivating factor,” Hughes said. “That helped our focus and we won’t be staying in the vicinity of the hotel Marriott Swansea, I think we will stick to the Vale of Glamorgan.”
Saints will enter Championship Sunday with a 3-point lead on 18th place Swansea City and a nine-goal goal differential advantage. Also in play in 17th place Huddersfield Town, currently level with Southampton on points but with two matches remaining (Arsenal, Chelsea).
Saints currently have an 11-goal advantage in differential on Swans. A major loss to Man City isn’t out of the question, and Swans meet a porous Stoke defense which was hemorrhaging goals even before it was relegated this weekend.
“It is not mathematically certain,” Hughes said. “We had to come here and we had to win. If we had not won today it would have been very, very difficult for us. It is not done yet but tonight we have put ourselves in the position where we have a great chance to stay up.
“We will enjoy tonight, we got what we set out to get. A huge result, we are delighted but still got work to do.”
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There’s gamesmanship afoot as Southampton prepares to visit Swansea City in a massive relegation six-pointer Tuesday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online on NBCSports.com).
The Daily Mail claims that Southampton was denied its hotel reservations ahead of the crucial clash with claims of a virus in the building, only to learn that the hotel was accepting guests.
[ MORE: JPW on the $230m match ]
That’s ironic given Swans’ status as gracious hosts: Only Stoke has lost more home league matches than Swansea’s eight, though four of their six wins have come since Jan. 22
Southampton has shown a knack for getting points away from home, with eight draws and two wins amongst their 18 results.
But Saints will know three points are huge with a visit from Man City its final match of the season while Swans at home to already relegated Stoke City.
What they’re saying
Swans’ Jordan Ayew is counting on home field advantage: “Time is running out, but we are confident when we play at home. With the support of the fans, we can beat any team. We’re not scared of anyone and we can get a lot of points at home. We know that we have two more tough games, but we can only take one at a time. Everything is in our hands and we need to win the games.”
Southampton’s Hughes on Saturday hero Redmond’s season struggles: “Sometimes he was being too sure, rather than being the natural player he is but I thought he was excellent when he came on, clearly understood what was required of him and when we made the change, that shows he is engaged and focused on what is happening on the pitch.”
Saints have more quality in attack, and that could be enough. Neither of these teams are particularly good at defending, and Swans will know it needs a win even more than their visitors. Call it 3-2 to Southampton in a thriller.
Southampton’s big derby win over Bournemouth will have any number of teams craning their necks behind them at the Premier League drop zone.
[ RECAP: Saints 2-1 Bournemouth ]
Dusan Tadic scored twice to pull Saints to 32 points, one back of Swans and three behind West Ham and Huddersfield.
“We need to have the teams above us looking over their shoulder and this result does that,” said Mark Hughes. “They know we have good quality, we just need to keep momentum. If we keep going like today it will go close.”
Hughes, for his part, is getting plenty of credit from his charges. Tadic, for one, says it’s all different under the Welsh boss.
“The new coach gave us extra power and experience and finally we gave him something back,” Tadic said. “We need to be at our best when it is the most difficult.”
“I think this is one of the most important wins in our history because we are fighting for our lives and I think we showed that.”
Saints have played one fewer match than Swans but could pass them with a win, as Swansea faces 18th placed Southampton and 19th place Stoke City on its run in to Decision Day.
One of Morocco’s best young players isn’t going to get ideal World Cup preparation, and could even lose his place in the team if things don’t turn around at Southampton.
Southampton’s one-time record signing Sofiane Boufal has been banished to the U-23 side after refusing to warm up in Saints loss to Chelsea last weekend.
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The refusal reportedly led to a dust-up with manager Mark Hughes in the dressing room after Saints came-from-ahead to lose 3-2.
Hughes says everything is better now, but there needs to be punishment for Boufal’s actions. This means one of Saints’ most talented attackers won’t be a part of their desperate battle to overcome relegation (at least not soon).
From the Guardian:
“Given where we are at the moment, he’s probably best served training with a different group just to make people aware the situation we found ourselves in wasn’t what should have happened. He understands that now. He probably needs to rebuild a bit of trust with us and his team-mates. That’s what we’re working on. He won’t be involved this weekend. We’ll have to wait and see [whether he can return this season].”
“He’s remorseful about it, which he needed to be, and we’ll build him back up to be in the group again. But the time for that isn’t now. It’s about him biding his time, doing the right things, until he’s reintegrated.”
Boufal has two goals and two assists in 26 games (11 starts) since arriving from arriving from Lille for around $22 million. He has six caps for Morocco.