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FINALLY the talking stopped for a moment and Virgil van Dijk returned to playing some actual football for Southampton Football Club – a sight few would have predicted in the summer months.

It was not exactly the ideal return to action with Saints under-23s losing 4-0 against Aston Villa under-23s with him and several other first teamers in the side – although this was mainly a fitness exercise for the centre-back.

The wantaway Dutchman, who played the full match here, may have been wondering why – after pushing so hard for the St Mary’s exit door all summer long – he was turning out for Saints’ under-23s rather than preparing for the start of the Champions League group stages this week.

To play in Europe’s elite tournament was of course one of the reasons why Van Dijk handed in a transfer request last month in the first place, with favoured destination Liverpool and Chelsea both able to offer this to the former Celtic man.

Instead, the 26-year-old, with little option but to return to work for Saints after the club carried out their promise not to sell the central defender, turned out at Walsall’s home ground, the Bescot Stadium –a place more au fait with the nitty-gritty of the Football League than the gloss of the Champions League.

But there was no sulking now – only frustration in defeat – from a player whose transfer saga was national news all summer.

At the start there were encouraging words and a few handshakes shared with his young team-mates before kick-off against their Villa counterparts.

First team coach Eric Black was sent by Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino to run the rule over Van Dijk from the stands and what he’ll likely report back is that the Dutchman may need more time get back to match sharpness.

Almost eight months on the sidelines, first with a foot ligament injury and then due to his transfer saga, has inevitably taken its toll.

He still commanded and organised the team around him, his voice regularly echoing around the virtually empty Bescot Stadium.

But he was still powerless to stop Saints’ academy side slumping to their third straight Premier League 2 defeat here – and should take part of the blame for the result too.

Jordan Cox with two well-taken finishes in the first half, another by substitute Harvey Knibbs sent Villa on their way, before Callum O’Hare put the gloss on a resounding win for the hosts early in the second period.

That heavy defeat came even with Saints having first teamers Jan Bednarek and Alex McCarthy also in the starting side alongside Van Dijk.

There were certainly signs of rust from Van Dijk, but that is expected after not playing a competitive game since January 22, when he suffered a long-term foot ligament injury against Leicester at St Mary’s in the Premier League.

Ultimately, this was a practice game for the Netherlands international and he’ll likely need a few more of these matches to start to get up to scratch, depending on how quickly Pellegrino will want to get him back to first team action.

He’s a player with class, undoubtedly, and there was good passing and reading of the game at times in this game, but in other parts he looked slightly off the pace.

For the first goal he broke away from his defence to win the ball, but O’Hare was able to ride his tackle and knock the ball to Cox to burst in to the space he’d left open to slot home.

After that he was unable to prevent Cox from firing in at the near post for his brace in the first half and could be accused of giving too much space to O’Hare for his strike on 53 minutes too.

There was communication from the bench to Van Dijk to check whether he wanted to continue in to the second half. Every time he returned with a nod to suggest he was able to carry on.

There were signs of frustration with the game beyond Saints by 53 minutes, he tried one of his meandering runs forward but was dispossessed.

It was a performance not up to usual standards from Van Dijk, but nonetheless a step back towards first team action.