MARK Hughes insists that he sees real potential in his current Saints squad and believes they will grow together at St Mary's.

Speaking for the first time since his appointment as permanent Saints manager, Sparky revealed that he reckons the current crop will have benefited from the hardship of last season's relegation scrap and the only way is up for the group he has.

It remains to be seen what transfer business Saints are planning this summer or whether there will be any departures, after the squad struggled in the top-flight in 2017/18.

But Hughes sees potential in his young team as it is.

“We’re really looking forward to the new season now and it’s about building straight from the off, making sure that we’re ready to go to hit the ground running,” he said in an interview with the club’s in-house media.

“It’s all the old cliches but they all apply. I think we’ve got a group here that’s talented and has real potential as well as there being growth because they’re still young in terms of years.

“I think they will all benefit from what we went through last year. I think we’ll learn from that and be better again this year.”

The 54-year-old believes narrowly beating off the threat of relegation last term will ensure this team are more prepared for next season, with Hughes sure they’ll be ‘physically and mentally’ ready for the challenges they will face in 2018/19.

Before the Premier League campaign gets back underway in mid-August, Saints will head to China on a pre-season tour later this month, before heading off to France for another camp in preparation for another jam-packed campaign.

“It’s an important time. Not everyone will be back but we’ll see how we go in terms of the makeup of the group that travels,” he said.

“We haven’t got too many away so a lot of good work can be started and we can start shaping things for what we need to do leading into the season from the first day.

“We’ll make sure we’re ready physically and mentally I’m convinced we will be because of the efforts and the events of last season that we came through. We’ll be ready to go.”

Hughes was announced as Saints boss in late May and revealed that it was a deal that 'made sense'.

“I’m delighted. With the way the season went in the end there was a great feeling and clearly we needed to get the job done. It was a short-term deal when I came in and I understood that totally,” he said.

“I just think what happened and how we went about our business it was clear there was a lot of relief at the club and a realisation that we’d come together, myself and my staff that I brought in, the players with the fans and everybody.

“It made sense that we tried to extend if we could.”