Ralph Hasenhuttl will not stand in Charlie Austin’s way if the striker decides he wants to leave Saints in the summer.

The 29-year-old has found his chances severely limited in recent months and could find himself further down the pecking order after the summer transfer window.

Austin nearly departed in January in a bid to find first team opportunities and Hasenhuttl insists he will not be the one to deny him a chance to play.

He said: “I think it depends how much he wants to play.

“It’s a situation that you can maybe handle for a few months or half a year but not for five years because you are not born as a footballer to sit on the bench and not play.

“He is very clear and knows that in the summer he must maybe find another option that he plays more often.

“Like with anybody else if he comes to me and says ‘manager it was very nice to help you, it was very nice to be successful with your team, but to be clear I want to play more minutes and that’s why I want to leave’, I am the last guy to say ‘no, because I need you here.’

“We find for every situation a solution and hopefully the best for the team and for him.”

Austin joined Saints from QPR for £4m in January 2016 and will have just one year remaining on his contract come the end of the season.

He has scored 20 goals for Saints during his time at the club but has only netted three times this season.

With Danny Ings the first choice and the likes of Shane Long, Michael Obafemi and Sam Gallagher already at the club, there is a lot of competition in his position.

Hasenhuttl praised Austin’s attitude and waynts to help him out however he can.

“He is a perfect example of a guy who is always positive for the team and very important for the team,” he said.

“Although he is not playing in the last games as much as he wants to, with his strong character he is very important for the team because he is always positive, always pushing the other guys and don’t let them lean back because he’s there and will show up.

“If the training sessions is not the quality he wants to be then he shouts at the other guys.

“That’s what I like, that’s why I love him and why I said in the winter transfer break if he stays with us I am happy and if he gets a chance to play somewhere else I am happy for him.

“He deserves to play more and at the moment I can’t offer him this chance here, not because he’s weak but because the others are doing it very well at the moment – Reddie scores, Longy scores, Ingsy’s back with a lot of quality and assists.

“It’s not easy for him to find a place in the team but he knows exactly what his task and his challenge is and he makes this in a fantastic way.”