SAINTS boss Ralph Hasenhuttl has revealed that Ryan Bertrand is still on the comeback trail.

The defender has been a noticeable absentee since the 1-1 draw with Watford last November.

It was confirmed that he had to undergo a ‘minor back operation’ in December that was only supposed to keep him out for “12-14 days.” However, Bertrand has now missed 16 games despite returning to full training over two weeks ago.

Daily Echo: Saints boss Ralph HasenhuttlSaints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl

Hasenuhttl said: “I think he is still raising his physical strength.

“On this part he has to work because he was long out and it’s normal that if you start again training with the team it takes time until you are at the level where you can play 90 minutes.

“It doesn’t make sense to bring any player on the bench if he is unable to play 90 minutes in the moment.

“That’s what he has to work on and he is doing it.

“We’ve had ten very good intensive sessions [since Bertrand’s returned to training] and played 11 against 11 for a long time in the sessions.

“It’s been very intensive with a lot of long runs and that’s exactly what he needs at the moment to come back into the best physical shape.”

Given the detail that Hasenhuttl goes into with his players, it’s no surprise to see Bertrand taking longer than expected to return to the starting XI.

Matt Targett has taken the defender’s spot at left-back and is flourishing under Hasenhuttl.

Targett has three assists to his name since returning to the team, including the cross in the build-up to James Ward-Prowse’s equaliser against Crystal Palace.

The 23-year-old has adapted well to the Austrian’s new style of training methods, which include sticking to the new white lines drawn for wing-backs on the Staplewood pitch. The markings are designed to get the defender familiar with the channel he should be making his runs in.

Hasenhuttl also sent Bertrand videos of how the team were training while he recovered from his back injury.

Daily Echo: Matt TargettMatt Targett

Now that Bertrand has returned to full training, he is looking forward to the competition it will create between the two left-backs.

Hasenhuttl added: “For me, the most important thing is always to have a challenge in every position on the pitch. It helps everyone to develop his game.

“If you feel that someone is behind you, and really pushing you, then it makes you do one step more to do what is necessary to come to the high-performance level. Therefore, I need every player.”