LONDON, April 8 (Reuters) - Southampton manager Mark Hughes said he was encouraged by the improvement in his team’s mentality in the last week even though Sunday’s 3-2 defeat at Arsenal left them fighting for Premier League survival.
Southampton took the lead early in the game through Shane Long, only to give it away and go behind by halftime. They drew level again through substitute Charlie Austin but ended up losing after Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck scored with a late header.
Nevertheless, Hughes said his players had shown real composure compared with the way they capitulated in a 3-0 drubbing at West Ham a week ago.
“I thought it was a good performance from our point of view in contrast with what we were able to produce against West Ham,” Hughes, whose side are 18th in the standings and three points from safety, told reporters.
“We came here with a game plan which for the most part worked. Clearly we were quite prepared to allow Arsenal a lot of possession in front of us, but our intention was to counter quickly and put Shane Long in areas high up the field where we could get support to him.”
The team’s defence let them down, however.
“As it’s obviously been the case this season, it’s been our defensive work that’s a little bit poor,” Hughes said.
But he was pleased with the way the team battled their way back into the game in the second half, a trait he felt would help them in their battle to secure a place in the top flight next season.
“We had to dust ourselves down and come out with a real purpose in the second half, and I thought we did that,” he said.
“It was clearly more encouraging from my point of view in terms of what we need to do to get out of this situation. Clearly we’ve got talented players - you’ve seen that today - we just need that element of determination and ability to affect the opposition when the going gets tough.”
“I saw evidence of that today, and that’s encouraging.”
Southampton are three points behind 17th placed Crystal Palace but with a game in hand. They still have to face both Chelsea and runaway league leaders Manchester City as they fight to avoid the drop in their final six games of the season. (Reporting by Hugh Lawson, editing by Pritha Sarkar)