SAINTS underlined their desire to sign at least one new centre back this summer after allowing Aaron Martin to go on a season-long loan to Crystal Palace.

The 22-year-old will join the Championship side for the duration of the 2012/13 campaign, as he bids to gain more first-team experience.

His departure, coupled with Radhi Jaidi’s retirement, leaves Saints with just three senior centre backs in their squad – Jose Fonte, Jos Hooiveld and Dan Seaborne.

Reinforcement is needed, and it is clear that allowing Martin to go means the club soon plan to boost numbers in that department.

They have already been linked with a host of centre backs this summer.

Blackburn’s Scott Dann is a notable name, with Rovers’ relegation from the Premier League likely to mean his departure from Ewood Park.

Zat Knight, who is out of contract at Bolton this summer and is yet to sign a new deal, is another who has been linked, as has Zak Whitbread, who was released by Norwich.

Birmingham’s Curtis Davies, Stoke’s Matthew Upson and even USA international Geoff Cameron, of Houston Dynamo, have all been rumoured to be on the club’s radar too.

While specific targets remain unknown, what is crystal clear is Saints’ intention to strengthen the heart of their backline.

None of their current centre halves can boast any Premier League experience, although Hooiveld has played in the Scottish top flight with Celtic and has also appeared in the Champions League.

While Fonte has plenty of Championship games under his belt, Seaborne has very few, having missed almost all of the last campaign with a serious head injury.

Saints have also promoted youngster Jack Stephens into the firstteam.

While the 18-year-old is regarded as a highly promising defender, he is yet to be tested at senior level with Saints.

Former Eastleigh defender Martin still has another two years to run on his contract at St Mary’s.

Manager Nigel Adkins was insistent yesterday that allowing him to join the Eagles was not a sign that his future lies away from Saints.

“This will be a great move for Aaron in terms of his development at Southampton Football Club,” he told the club’s website.

Adkins added: “He has a long-term contract here and we see a bright future for him, but to keep progressing he needs to be playing regular football, and he will get that at Crystal Palace.”

If used regularly, the move should benefit Martin in the long run.

Since joining Saints in 2009, he has made just 29 first-team appearances.

He was perhaps an unwitting victim of Alan Pardew’s dismissal in August 2010, having begun to establish himself in the starting XI under the previous Saints boss.

Following Pardew’s sacking, however, he found opportunities more limited.

So the chance to gain regular Championship experience should prove valuable.

Breaking back into the side at Saints may prove a challenge, though, especially if the club can establish themselves in the Premier League.

But Adkins’ words will provide Martin with encouragement.

It is now up to him to enhance his reputation with the Eagles and put his manager’s comments to the test.