SAINTS midfielder Mario Lemina has saluted Ralph Hasenhuttl for remaining patient with him.

Lemina suffered an abdominal injury back in December and had to undergo a minor operation to resolve the issue.

And after making two substitute appearances against Newcastle and Watford, the Gabonese international completed his comeback by starting in the 3-0 defeat to West Ham on Saturday.

Daily Echo: Saints manager Ralph HasenhuttlSaints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl

Lemina said: “It’s been hard for me to come back into the team.

“It was my first 75 minutes and I am really happy to play for that long despite the result.

“I am getting better and I hope I will play the next game as well.

“He [Hasenhuttl] trusts me like he trusts every other player.

“He has allowed me to play the last game and has given me time to get fit.”

Lemina's comeback took longer than originally expected which meant he was left watching Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu strike up a successful midfield partnership.

There is no doubting the former Juventus player's ability on the ball, but, at times, he shows a lack of discipline in a more defensive role.

Given that Hojbjerg is the captain and Ward-Prowse has become undroppable over the last five months, it looks as though Lemina will battle with Romeu over the final place in midfield.

Daily Echo: Mario Lemina's season has been plagued with an abdominal injuryMario Lemina's season has been plagued with an abdominal injury

Despite Saturday's defeat, Lemina explained that it would be tough to judge the players that came into the side too harshly due to their combined lack of game time.

The 25-year-old was joined by Mohamed Elyounoussi, who made his first appearance since the Arsenal defeat in February, and Fraser Forster who had to wait 495 days for another chance.

Lemina added: “It is going to change something because the links are not there, but we were happy to have some minutes.

“The manager tried to change it a bit and give some minutes to players like me.

“There were a lot of changes because the first XI were tired and we are already safe.

“We tried to give everything which is the main thing.”

Although their final away match ended in defeat, Lemina is optimistic about what Saints can achieve under Hasenhuttl's management next season.

“With this manager, we can believe in a lot of things.

“I think we are going to grow again because the defeat to West Ham isn’t who we are.

“We are going to grow next year.”