SAINTS Under-23s boss Radhi Jaidi stated that Virgil van Dijk will have benefitted from playing 90 minutes for his young side.

The Dutchman made his return to action for Saints’ academy team in a 4-0 defeat against Aston Villa at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium.

Van Dijk had not played since January following a foot ligament injury and his well-documented transfer saga, which saw him exiled from first-team duties while his future was decided during the summer months.

But despite interest from Liverpool and Chelsea, the 26-year-old was not sold in the transfer window and has begun his re-integration back in to life at Saints.

He’s been back in training with Mauricio Pellegrino’s side and last night played his first match for the under-23s.

“It was 90 minutes. He hadn’t played for a long period and 90 minutes will be beneficial for him,” Jaidi said.

The former centre-back Jaidi, who played for Saints between 2009-2012 and stayed on as coach after his retirement, was more concerned over his team’s 4-0 defeat – their third in a row in Premier League 2 Division 1.

He said: “It’s a learning curve for them. It’s a league that we’re new to. The boys need to understand that we’re playing against players who are hungry to beat them and motivated to get any point against us.

“We’re a team that try to play football and the players are adjusted to that but we need to stand up to the challenge at times.

“It’s the little things but it costs us big when we lose them in the game and that’s what happened tonight, especially in the midfield areas where we should have controlled the game better.

“The third goal could have avoided because of an individual mistake, but they’ll learn from it. It’s a learning curve and we’ll try to move forward."

The under-23s boss has seen experienced youngsters like Harrison Reed, Sam Gallagher, Ryan Seager, Harry Lewis and Olufela Olomola head out on loan for this season.

He believes this will be a big positive for their development, despite leaving him with a very youthful under-23s side at his disposal.

“The boys you mentioned there have reached their maximum level of academy development,” he said.

“They need man challenges, they need man environments and we make sure we help them in that aspect.

“We send them along to get game experience and hopefully they come back experienced men for us and play for the first team.

“That’s the kind of the path we’re looking for. Some players will go straight to the first team, some players will go to experiences here and away.

“Then hopefully they’ll come back as senior boys ready to play senior team.”