Will new manager Mark Hughes keep Southampton in the Premier League?

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 14 March 2018, 22:52

Mark Hughes has returned to Southampton as manager, 18 years after he left the Saints during his playing days.

Hughes, who was sacked by Stoke in January, put pen to paper and signed a short-term contract through to the end of the season.

The Premier League strugglers eventually axed Mauricio Pellegrino on Monday following a wretched run of one league win in 17 matches, and in turn have placed their faith in the experienced Hughes who has eight games to save his new side from the dreaded drop down to the Championship.

Hughes sported the Southampton shirt on 60 occasions between 1998 and 2000, scoring only two goals, while he picked up a whopping 14 yellow cards.

But while the Welshman may not have thrived on the south coast as a player, it’s hoped that he can conjure up a rescue mission as manager after becoming the sixth permanent Saints boss in just over five years.

Hughes, known for his pragmatic approach, certainly doesn’t represent the inspiring appointment fans craved following the tedious tenures of Claude Puel and Mauricio Pellegrino.

However, if you take into account both the timing of the club’s decision to sack Pellegrino, and their precarious position in the table (17th), the appointment of the solid, yet unspectacular, Hughes could prove to be a shrewd move at this pivotal stage of the season, especially given his abundance of experience as a top-flight manager.

In 445 games at five clubs spanning 14 years Hughes has never experienced relegation from the Premier League - a record he’ll be gunning to preserve as he takes up his seventh spell in the managerial arena.

Mark Hughes Managerial Tenures

Wales: 1999-04

Blackburn: 2004-08

Man City: 2008-09

Fulham: 2010-11

QPR: 2012

Stoke: 2013-18

Southampton: 2018-

A fired up Hughes will look to galvanize his confidence-crushed troops and hit the ground running ahead of their tricky run-in. However, the immediate focus isn’t on survival, but progress in the FA Cup, as Hughes’ men travel to Man City’s conquerors Wigan on Sunday bidding to move into the semi-finals of the prestigious competition for the first time since 2003.

Sparky’s first league game is a gargantuan six-pointer away to relegation rivals West Ham (16th), who are in all sorts of problems at the moment. Only three of Southampton’s final eight games are on home soil, two of which are against defending champions Chelsea and champions-elect Man City, so it’s crucial that Hughes gets his men firing on the road.

Hughes may, or may not, be aware that on only two occasions in the past 10 years has a manager taken charge of a troubled top-flight club at this late stage of the season and gone on to keep them in the top-tier: Dick Advocaat and Paolo Di Canio (both with Sunderland). Meanwhile, seven others have failed, including Steve Agnew at Middlesbrough last season.

The Saints are priced at 2/5 to stay up, 15/8 to go down, and 12/1 to lift the FA Cup for the first time since their one and only success back in 1976.

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