(Reuters) - Southampton manager Mark Hughes admitted to mixed feelings after his side escaped relegation despite conceding an injury-time winner to champions Manchester City at St Mary’s in their season finale on Sunday.
Ultimately, a spectacular 94th minute goal by Gabriel Jesus that sealed City’s 1-0 win and secured their landmark 100-point season proved irrelevant to the Saints because Swansea’s defeat by Stoke City meant they were safe anyway.
Yet while Southampton secured another Premier League season after finishing 17th, one place above the drop zone on 36 points, Hughes could not hide his last-day frustration.
“I need to give myself a shake because I’m a little bit flat because I felt we should have won this game against the champions,” said Hughes, after City had beaten Saints with an injury-time goal for the second time this season.
“You expect the best team in England to always go to the end and we ended up losing a game I thought we possibly should have won.
“I thought we put in a fantastic, professional performance, which is what I demanded before the game and credit to the guys.
“I am sure they will get over it like I will after a few beers.”
Hughes saluted what he said was “a huge effort by everyone” in ensuring Saints’ safety which looked seriously in doubt until their 1-0 win at Swansea in midweek.
“It was a huge step what we did last Tuesday. I thought we were excellent today. I felt it was a bit hard on us,” said Hughes.
The Welshman was appointed on a short-term contract as successor to Mauricio Pellegrino in March. Although he took a while to turn things round, Southampton produced a strong end to the season with two wins and a draw from their final four games.
“We needed to get to the root of the problem, what was happening and what wasn’t happening,” said Hughes.
“First and foremost the guys just engaged. They were prepared to back what we were saying. They really put a shift in. They’re probably embarrassed by the season they’ve had because it’s a quality squad.
“They are desperately disappointed at being beaten today and that’s a good sign.”
Hughes, who British media reported was on a one million pound ($1.35 million) bonus to keep Southampton up, is unsure whether he will be offered the chance to stay on as his short-term contract has now expired.
Asked about his future, he said: “I don’t know. Clearly, the club will have conversations this week. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a good club.”
($1 = 0.7386 pounds)
Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Ian Chadband