BOSS Ralph Hasenhuttl says striker Michael Obafemi "makes it too easy for others to go above him" as he battles to win back his spot in the Saints matchday squad.

Obafemi has played just 20 minutes of first-team football this season, coming off the bench in the Carabao Cup defeat to Brentford and Premier League victory against Burnley at Turf Moor.

But the 20-year-old has fallen further out of the reckoning in recent weeks, not even making the list of substitutes for the past three Saints matches, with youngster Dan N'Lundulu preferred as backup alongside Shane Long with Che Adams, Danny Ings and Theo Walcott filling the striker berths.

Dublin-born Obafemi has one senior cap for Republic of Ireland, but has also lost his place in their squad, instead featuring for the country's under-21s during this international break.

He played 73 minutes of a 2-1 defeat to Iceland on Sunday and is due to feature away against Luxembourg tomorrow, looking for a win to keep their slim European Under-21 Championship qualification hopes alive.

Obafemi, who was sent off for the Saints B team last month for violent conduct, made his senior debut for the club in January 2018. He has gone on to feature a further 34 times, scoring five goals including memorable strikes in victory at Chelsea and the draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season.

Asked for the reason behind Obafemi's recent absence from the squad, Hasenhuttl told the Daily Echo: "Others have been better. It’s so simple as this.

"If you know me as a coach then you know that for me the form is more important than the talent.

"When somebody shows me more in the sessions, then I am always keen to take him and give him a chance. When you see our actual squad, there are seven or eight players when I arrived or during the time I’ve been here, there have been moments where they haven’t been selected for the squad at all.

"This is tough, but they know when they show up, they always have a chance to come back. I think this is the best you can give as a manager - to give everybody a neutral chance to show up and then you are good or bad at that moment and then if you get the chance to play, then you must show up."

Asked for his assessment of Obafemi's development this season, having previously been a part of every first-team matchday squad in 2020 before his recent exile, Hasenhuttl added: "The problem with Michael was always he would play one good game and then fall back a little bit and was not professional enough to force or keep his position in the team or in the squad.

"This makes it too easy for others to go above him. I think this is what he must learn.

"Once he is in the squad, don’t give it away so easily and try to be aggressive and dangerous in front of the goal.

"I think this is something he misses, but he’s young, he still has to learn a lot and this is kind of mentality but is also kind of quality."