RALPH Hasenhuttl remains confident Mohammed Salisu will be a "big player in the future" for Saints, as he approaches the end of his first season in England.

It was a nightmare start for the Ghanaian, unable to play for his new club until six months after he arrived.

The defender joined Saints from Real Valladolid for £10.9million in August of last year, but due to fitness and injury problems, did not make his debut until February 2021, at Wolves in the FA Cup.

Since then, the 22-year-old has been a regular among the matchday squad, making 11 appearances in total. The latest of those came after being introduced as an early substitute to play 75 minutes of Saints' 1-1 draw with Leicester City on Friday night, following the dismissal of Jannik Vestergaard.

Asked if he feels Salisu is on track after his first nine months in England, boss Hasenhuttl, who has often described the defender as a "long-term project", told the Daily Echo: "Absolutely. I must say he has at the moment, like two other guys also, a problem with the Ramadan where they have during the day not a lot of things to eat.

"Then you are thinking is it possible for him to fight 90 minutes hard? But on Friday he showed that he is able to do it.

"We had the break for drinking (during the game) after the sun goes down and then he was there.

"He was unbelievable, fighting for this team and congrats to this performance."

Discussing Salisu's potential to have even more of an impact next season, Hasenhuttl added: "I think against the ball he has big strength.

"With the ball he can still improve and get better, but I think this is also a part of the game that we are working hard with him on it. Finally I am sure that for us he will be a big player in the future."

Although he came on as a sub against Leicester, Salisu had made his fifth Premier League start the previous week, playing the full 90 minutes out of position at left-back in a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur.

But he reverted to his more natural position of centre-back against the Foxes, with Jack Stephens filling in on the left in the absence of the injured Ryan Bertrand.

Reflecting back on Salisu's performance against Leicester, Hasenhuttl said: "He is fantastic there (centre-back).

"He heads so many balls out of the box and was absolutely a wall there to defend. But also the other guys did a good job.

"Jack and Jan (Bednarek) and Kyle (Walker-Peters). Even the strikers were working hard, Che (Adams) was amazing, kept so many balls there.

"Reddy (Nathan Redmond) was working hard, Taki (Minamino) always defending well. So they showed some qualities we haven’t shown in the past. We had a good week training and finally put the good performance on the pitch."

Speaking after the draw with Leicester, goalkeeper Alex McCarthy added: "It's always difficult coming on into a game like that, when you're down to 10 men, and Sali was unbelievable."