MAYA Yoshida has urged Saints to “step up” against the Premier League’s smaller clubs – starting at Stoke this weekend.

Mauricio Pellegrino’s men put the frighteners on high-fliers Manchester United in the 1-0 defeat at St Mary’s at the weekend, with a top second-half display.

Japan international Yoshida now wants Saints to find that level of performance on a consistent basis as they prepare to face middling top-flight sides Stoke, Newcastle, West Brom and Brighton.

“That is the kind of the difference between Southampton and Manchester United but if we can play like this against teams in the top, hopefully we can step up against the teams in the middle,” he said.

“We have to be consistent more, not sometimes win, sometimes lose.

“If we continue to play like this we can have more chances.

“There is nothing much different between the top teams - if we want to step up more, we have to be better, more consistent.

“I believe we can do it.”

The 29-year-old is relishing the challenge of trying to keep his place at centre-back amid big competition for places in defence at Saints.

New £15m signing Wesley Hoedt has partnered Yoshida in the last two games, but Virgil van Dijk is likely to come back in at some point soon and Jack Stephens is another top notch option at central defence.

“It’s really tough,” he said. “I understand because Virgil is one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League, so I have to keep showing my good performance to the manager, to the fans and bring good results to the team.

“This is the only thing I can do.

“If you think about Wesley, Virgil ... blah, blah, blah ... there’s no point for me. I just have to focus on myself and keep playing well.”

Is Yoshida feeling the pressure?

“Through my experience in the last couple of years I am pretty sure that kind of pressure makes me stronger,” he said.

“Even Jack Stephens wasn’t involved in the squad. I think can kind of really high competition we have at Southampton.”

Hoedt joined Saints last month from Lazio and has already impressed, and Yoshida has liked what he’s seen so far.

He said: “He has done well the last two games. Its two games – the season is long. It will be more tough now but I’m pretty sure he will be fine.”

“That kind of competition we have I welcome.”