Hughes flies high as Saints reach semis

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MARK Hughes enjoyed the ideal start to his Southampton reign as the struggling English Premier League club reached the FA Cup semifinals with a 2-0 win at Wigan Athletic yesterday.
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Midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (left) watches as his shot beats Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Christian Walton for Southampton’s first goal during their English FA Cup quarterfinal at DW Stadium in Wigan yesterday. The Saints won 2-0. 

MARK Hughes enjoyed the ideal start to his Southampton reign as the struggling English Premier League club reached the FA Cup semifinals with a 2-0 win at Wigan Athletic yesterday.

Hughes was hired as Southampton manager last week to replace Mauricio Pellegrino and the former Saints striker made an immediate impact.

Hughes’ main goal is to help Southampton preserve its top-flight status and it dropped into the relegation zone on Saturday as Crystal Palace won in the league while the Saints were preparing for their cup quarterfinal. Nevertheless, a trip to Wembley in the semifinals could provide a welcome tonic as the new manager tries to make his presence felt.

It was essential Southampton avoided following in the footsteps of Manchester City, West Ham United and Bournemouth — top-flight sides which had all perished against third tier giant-killer Wigan in the FA Cup this season.

The Saints achieved that aim thanks to second-half goals from Pierre Emile Hojbjerg and Cedric Soares.

Southampton joined Tottenham Hotspur, a 3-0 winner at Swansea City on Saturday, and Manchester United — which beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 — in the semifinals, with Leicester City and Chelsea meeting in the last quarterfinal later yesterday.

After a scrappy first half, Southampton took the lead in the 62nd minute.

Dusan Tadic’s corner was stabbed goalwards by Hojbjerg and Wigan’s Dan Burn couldn’t react quick enough to clear off the line.

Manolo Gabbiadini had a chance to double Southampton’s advantage in the 73rd when he got past Burn and the Wigan center-back brought him down in the penalty area. But Wigan goalkeeper Christian Walton plunged to his left and pushed Gabbiadini’s powerful spot-kick round the post.

Wigan applied plenty of pressure in the closing stages, but couldn’t emulate its epic fifth round success against EPL leader City.

In stoppage-time, Southampton right back Soares surged into the area before side-footing past Walton.

On Saturday, Mohamed Salah scored his first Liverpool hat trick, added another goal for good measure and created one for Roberto Firmino in a 5-0 EPL victory over Watford on Saturday.

It took Liverpool up to third place between Manchester United and Spurs.

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