MANAGER Ralph Hasenhuttl revealed Jannik Vestergaard’s knee injury had been getting “worse and worse” and insisted: “He had to stop now”.

The Danish defender, who had been in stellar form for Saints this season, could miss up to four weeks or more with the injury, which kept him out against Fulham on Boxing Day.

Vestergaard is set to be absent for Saints’ home showdown against West Ham on Tuesday (6pm).

Hasenhuttl said: “The injury of Jannik, it was an old injury from an international game where he was overstretching his leg and the knee was maybe starting to make problems.

“It was getting worse and worse and he had to stop now.”

Saints could face up to six fixtures over the next four weeks in both league and cup competitions without Vestergaard.

“It’s a lot of games for the players, we know this, especially now over Christmas where we play three times a week,” added Hasenhuttl.

“For us, with the small squad we have, it’s very tough to find a balance of protecting them or playing them – we don’t have such a big squad.

“It’s a strange year, it’s a very intense year and we must absolutely do everything, that we control training sessions at a lower level and manage who we have for the games.

“This could be the key in the next weeks to come through this very intense time.”