Oriol Romeu has hailed “amazing” Mark Hughes for leading Southampton to the brink of Premier League safety.
Southampton had won only once in 17 league games when Hughes was appointed manager following Mauricio Pellegrino’s sacking in March.
Pellegrino’s last act after a 3-0 defeat at Newcastle was to accuse some of his players of “giving up”, but there was plenty of spirit on show after Tuesday’s 1-0 win at relegation rivals Swansea all but confirmed Southampton’s top-flight safety.
“He (Hughes) has made a huge difference,” Spanish midfielder Romeu said.
“He has been amazing, to see how how he has stepped in since the first day trying to change things around.
“He has been positive and tried to make us better players and a better team.
“He has done it and put everyone together.
“We were pushing and he was helping us in anything we needed. That’s what this team needs – and that’s what this manager has done.”
Hughes was sacked as Stoke manager in January with the Potters immersed in a relegation fight they could not escape under his successor Paul Lambert.
Stoke chairman Peter Coates said on Tuesday that not sacking Hughes earlier had been a mistake and stated “significant errors” in the transfer market had played a part in the club’s downfall.
Hughes responded to that accusation by saying he was “not without blame”, but added that others “need to look closer to home at times”.
Romeu, however, said the 54-year-old Welshman had galvanised Southampton after a damaging end-of-March defeat at West Ham had dropped them into the relegation zone.
“That game was a shock and we saw that,” Romeu said.
“We lost 3-0, but it was not just that. It was the way we lost.
“But there was a change after that.
“The manager saw what we needed and he has saved us from a very difficult situation.”
Substitute Manolo Gabbiadini scored Southampton’s 72nd-minute winner at Swansea and the Saints have virtually guaranteed their safety by taking seven points from the last nine on offer.
Southampton will go into Sunday’s final game at home to the champions Manchester City with a three-point advantage over Swansea and a better goal difference of nine.
Swansea are at home to Stoke on the final day.
“Mathematically we are not safe, that’s the fact,” Romeu said.
“Of course, there is so many goals that they (City) must score.
“The odds will be on our side but it is football and they are Manchester City.
“They have good offensive players, so we won’t play that game thinking we are already safe.”