London (AFP) – Mark Hughes hopes the memory of a successfulbattle to avoid relegation with Southampton in his playing days will help him beat the drop again as manager of the south coast club.
In 1999 Southampton looked destined to bow out of English football’s top flight, having spent most of the season in the bottom three.
But with the likes of Saints great Matt Le Tissier and Marian Pahars finding form late on, Southampton enjoyed an unbeaten run in their last five matches, winning three and drawing two, to stay in the Premier League.
Southampton travel to fellow strugglers West Ham on Saturday. Victory at the London Stadium would see the Saints move out of the bottom three, whereas a defeat would make it all the harder for the club to retain their Premier League status.
“They are different, clearly, there are similar emotions in different quantity,” said former Blackburn and Stoke boss Hughes ahead of his first league game in charge of Southampton.
Hughes may have made his name in football as a striker with Manchester United in the 1980s but the Welshman’s managerial career has also seen him involved in several fights to avoid relegation.
“Anxiety plays a bigger part at the wrong end of the table,” said Hughes. “That can sap confidence from you as a player or a group.
“You have to bring the crowd along with you as they can help and if everyone is pushing in the right direction that can really help.
“My abiding memory of my time here (Southampton) when we were in trouble was that everybody stuck together. The crowd got behind us and got us over the line. Hopefully they will again.”
Hughes, a Wales international striker who went on to manage his country, added: “I don’t look back too often but it is right to mention that because there were similarities — we had something like eight or 10 games to go and I don’t think too many people at the time gave us much chance of getting out of it, so it was viewed as a great escape then.
“Maybe people don’t feel the current team has one of the strongest opportunities to finish outside the bottom three, but we’ll have something to say about that.”