Mauricio Pellegrino hailed Virgil van Dijk’s return to the Saints starting line-up as “good news” for the club.

The Dutch defender made his first since January in the 2-1 defeat at Stoke.

Though he gave away a first half penalty, Pellegrino was generally pleased with how he played after such a long time out, and also praised the 26-year-old’s attitude after all the furore that surrounded his future following his summer transfer request.

“I think he was ok,” surmised Pellegrino. “It is not easy to come back after a long long way, a long period of time, and I think he was correct, focused, and the timing in some action was good.

“I have to try and give some games to everybody to recover our best players.

“It’s good news and not just Virgil but Sofiane (Boufal) played well second half and the level of the team is always with the performance of the players on the line and it’s good news for us.”

Sadly for van Dijk, his return to the team was not quite enough to inspire a win as Saints lost out to Peter Crouch’s late winner.

For Pellegrino it felt like a familiar tale after playing well in the second half against Manchester United the previous week but also coming away with nothing to show for it.

“I feel disappointed for this goal, it was an unlucky action for us that changed completely the history of the game,” reflected Pellegrino.

“I think we put them under pressure even from the beginning, the first half, controlling the ball and in the second half we were much better, pushing them.

“After our goal I think we were much better than them and in this moment I think we were more close to win the game than to lose.

“But it is part of football and we concede a soft goal and it is something we have to improve.

“We showed character, I think we controlled the ball, we moved them, we never give them, except a couple of counter attacks with Shaqiri who is a clever player always looking for spaces behind our midfielders.

“In general I can’t say nothing about our attitude and energy but more or less it is the same history as the other day.

“We play well, we put them under pressure, but we come back home with zero points.”

Pellegrino was spoken to by referee Mike Jones late on, but played down the incident.

He said: “I wanted to take the ball in this moment because we play with just one ball, and I left my zone. The only thing I did was to leave my zone.

“I don’t have any problem with Mark and I respect the referee and I respect Mark. Nothing happened."