Mauricio Pochettino has insisted that Saints’ season is not all but over and has targeted Europa League qualification.

The Saints boss launched an impassioned defence of his team selection for the FA Cup tie at Sunderland which the club lost 1-0 with six changes to the side which had beaten Hull earlier in the week.

Pochettino was clearly frustrated by the accusation that he showed the competition a lack of respect, and also wanted to make it clear that Saints’ season is very much alive.

Currently only the top five positions in the Premier League earn the right to play European football next season, but that could go down to seventh depending on what happens in the domestic cup competitions.

Saints, who face West Ham at Upton Park tomorrow looking to make it three away league wins in a row, will be gunning for those slots.

“In the end anything I say is going to be used against the manager,” smiled Pochettino when asked how high the club could finish this season.

“When I said in my personal opinion that I don’t care for the Europa League that was completely taken out of context and saying that Southampton doesn’t want to play in the Europa League. No. I am very happy if Southampton get into the Europa League.

“It’s a goal we are looking towards achieving, but my ambition is to be playing in the Champions League because I like better the Champions League to the Europa League.

“We want to win at West Ham to be as high as possible in the table.

“After winning two consecutive games away, and it had been about 13 years I think since that happened, it is a great incentive for these players to get that third consecutive win.

“I don’t know when Southampton won three games away and that’s a great incentive for this team.”

Pochettino launched a steadfast defence of his team selection for the game at Sunderland.

“What I want to make clear is that I don’t agree that everything is decided in the league. I think that is completely false,” he reasoned.

“I think this team can keep climbing positions in the league.

“We fully respect the FA Cup, we fully respect that competition, and we were very much keen on getting through that tie and into the next round.

“In the game against Arsenal I put Sam Gallagher as a starting player and nobody said I had no respect for the Premier League so that shows I am committed to bringing in the young players and giving them chances.

“As for the game against Sunderland we chose what we thought was the best team for that game because we see it as a very important game and a very important competition.

“We played with players that have shown in the past that they can be in the starting XI. They have shown in the past they have the capacity to be in the starting XI in any single game that we play. They are players that have the skill to be playing for Southampton.

“For example in that game against Sunderland we used James Ward-Prowse who was said in the past to be the next Beckham. Nathaniel Clyne was considered to perhaps be going to the World Cup.

“I think the criticisms that came after the game at Sunderland were out of context.

“We have shown since we’ve come here to Southampton that we fully respect the history of English football, we fully respect the history of the FA Cup and I think Southampton as a whole is an example of a club that believes in young English players, young English talent, and we give them the chances.

“That’s why I found it a bit strange with all the criticism that came after the FA Cup.”