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Mark Hughes sympathises with Saints gaffer Claude Puel

Southampton 0-1 Stoke City

By Declan Warrington

Mark Hughes cannot understand the "puzzling" pressure that is building on Southampton manager Claude Puel after he led his team to an eighth-placed Premier League finish.

During the Frenchman's first season in English football he also took Saints to the EFL Cup final, where they lost to Manchester United, despite injuries to Charlie Austin and Virgil van Dijk and the sale of captain Jose Fonte during a total of 53 fixtures.

During Hughes' only full season as a Southampton player, in 1998/99, they narrowly avoided relegation. He has also been under little pressure while manager of Stoke, where this season's 13th-placed finish follows three in which they came ninth.

Peter Crouch's second-half headed goal, a record 50th in the Premier League, combined with goalkeeper Jack Butland's resilience secured three points for Hughes' team to ensure Southampton went a fifth straight home game without scoring.

Regardless of that record Hughes is defensive of the work Puel, 55, has done. The financial strength of the division's leading seven teams is widely considered too great for those below them to overcome, and discussing reports Puel is at risk of the sack, Hughes said: "It is a little bit puzzling.

"Correct me if I am wrong, but they are eighth. Maybe it's the expectation.

"When you raise the expectation - and Southampton have been excellent for a number of years - people think they are disappointed but if you look at it in the whole, maybe they haven't done as bad as people are making out.

"Sometimes you can't understand it. People get disappointed when you lose games. I am not immune to criticism. I have had some myself.

Puel insisted he was unconcerned at the home crowd chanting "You don't know what you're doing" and the way they booed first his substitutions and then him at the final whistle.

The club will imminently review his position, but he said: "I want to stay with all the positives and to finish eighth, I'm proud.

"It's a good, positive season."

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