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Mark Hughes realises importance of fast start as he aims to keep Southampton up

Hughes’ first Premier League match in charge will be at fellow relegation battlers West Ham on March 31.

New Southampton manager Mark Hughes accepts his team will have to hit the ground running if they are to achieve their objective of staying in the Premier League.

The Welshman, who made 60 appearances for the Saints as a player, took charge of the squad for the first time on Thursday after signing a contract until the end of the season to replace Mauricio Pellegrino.

Southampton head to Wigan in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup on Sunday, with the first Premier League match under Hughes set to be at fellow relegation battlers West Ham on March 31.

Hughes is confident he is the man who can help the 17th-placed club secure their top-flight status. Press Association Sport understands he is on a bonus of about £1million to keep the Saints up.

“From our point of view, we haven’t got enough time to do a gradual process – we have to hit the ground running,” Hughes said on the club’s official website.

“Undoubtedly, we’ve got good players here. Players that, for whatever reason, have found it more of a struggle this year.

“We’ll get down to the reasons why, but these players have the ability to win games in the Premier League and that’s what we intend to do.”

Pellegrino was appointed as Claude Puel’s successor last June, but the Saints only managed to win five of his 30 Premier League games in charge.

The Argentinian came under increasing pressure as the campaign progressed, with fans frustrated by perceived defensive tactics and pundits accusing the players of not playing for him.

Hughes wants his side to play with freedom.

“I don’t think we need to show any apprehension,” the former Stoke boss said.

“We need to go out, express ourselves, show our ability and manage the game.

“I am here to get the job done and make sure we’re in the Premier League next year.”

The 54-year-old former Manchester United and Barcelona forward left Stoke in January when he was axed after four and a half years in the hotseat.

Hughes, though, is confident he will not take long to settle into his new surroundings.

“I know a great deal about them from coming up against Southampton over the years. You get a real understanding of what they’re about and the style of play,” he said.

“If I’m honest, I’ve probably tried to sign half of them, but haven’t quite got them over the line.

“I know a lot of the qualities these players possess, so it’s going to be good to get the opportunity to finally work with some of the players I missed out on with previous clubs.”

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