Mark Hughes urges Stoke to think big after win at Sunderland
Mark Hughes is urging Stoke to cling on to the coat-tails of the top six and he targets a best Premier League finish for the club.
Saturday's 3-1 victory at Sunderland left the Potters in ninth place on 27 points and while Hughes believes ultimately they should be challenging for European qualification, he will remain patient.
He said: "At some point in the future, we want to be hopefully qualifying by league position for Europe, but this year clearly that's going to be very, very difficult.
"The top six are going to be too far away for the rest of us to challenge for those positions, but clearly from seventh down, there's an opportunity and we are always trying to achieve things and do things that haven't been done in the Premier League for Stoke City.
"If we could get eighth or seventh, that's something that's never been done by a Stoke City team in the Premier League, so that's our challenge from now until the end of the season to see if we can do it."
Stoke romped to victory at the Stadium of Light as they put their FA Cup exit at the hands of Sky Bet Championship Wolves firmly behind them with a first-half blitz.
Marko Arnautovic did the early damage, opening the scoring with a 15th-minute strike and doubling his tally seven minutes later in style after exchanging passes with Xherdan Shaqiri and Peter Crouch.
Hughes said: "Everybody is talking about it. At the time, you are always following other things, then you see it develop and you see a couple of one-twos and then all of a sudden you think, 'If we get the final pass, then it's going to be an opportunity for a goal'.
"Thankfully that's what happened. I'll enjoy looking back at the video and seeing it from start to finish. By all accounts, it was one of the better goals that we have been involved in, so that's good."
Crouch capitalised on an error by hapless keeper Vito Mannone to make it 3-0 with the 99th Premier League goal of his career and his 50th strike for the Potters.
Hughes said: "He continues to defy people who question whether or not we should have given him a contract or [ask] should he still be playing at this level. We have no doubts whatsoever.
"He's only one goal away now from 100 Premier League goals, which is a really important landmark for him and I'd be very, very surprised if he didn't reach it very quickly."
Shell-shocked Sunderland boss David Moyes saw Jermain Defoe reduced the deficit to spark an improved second-half display, but to no avail.
Asked if the opening 35 minutes was as difficult to watch as anything he has seen during his reign to date, Moyes said: "Yes, but it was down to three individual mistakes. If it was tactical or something different...but it was just three poor mistakes which never allowed us to get going, really.
"When you go 3-0 down, it takes a big set of you-know-whats to keep trying to play, keep taking the ball and trying to do things right and I've got to say, I thought they stuck at it.
"Seb Larsson started it by winning a few tackles, pressing, got people seeing he was at it and I thought the team actually followed Seb a little bit.
"We got a goal back and if we could have got the second goal, who knows? We made one or two chances in the second half which could have got us that. But the damage was done by poor mistakes, poor, poor individual mistakes."