SIMON Gillett today finally makes his long-awaited first senior start for Saints.

Frozen out under George Burley and told he could leave, the 23-year-old midfielder thought his nine-year spell with the club he loves was at an end.

But eight months on, with Burley departed and Jan Poortvliet now head coach, Gillett is expected to be a regular in the first team this season - starting with this afternoon's Championship opener at Cardiff.

"I was overlooked by George Burley," he said. "I don't know the reasons, you would have to ask him, but I've been ready for a while and I'm eager to take my chance.

"It was really frustrating, especially last year.

"I had come back from Blackpool, where I had a successful season on loan and got promoted with them.

"I thought I had done quite well, but I came back here and wasn't even given a chance to prove myself.

"I was excluded from the squad and it gets quite tough."

But Gillett refused to give up and was given encouragement by his reserve coach Stewart Henderson and others within St Mary's.

"You have got to dig in and sometimes football is like that," he said.

"Sometimes your face just doesn't fit.

"I'm a hard working guy and I don't give up.

"Stewart Henderson has been really supportive and told me to keep going and I've had good people around me to keep me going."

Gillett took the decision to sign a new two-year deal, with the option of a further year, this summer, after his previous contract expired.

He admitted he would not have done that had the situation at the club not changed.

"I was out of contract last season and I had a long think about what I was going to do," he said.

"I had to make the right decision, because I want to be playing regularly somewhere now.

"In January, there were a couple of clubs interested and George Burley said I could go.

"At that point he went to Scotland and it was all up in the air.

"Luckily I stayed here and it's all looking really positive."

Full story: see today's Daily Echo.

Also in today's Echo: Simon Gillet on his partnership with Morgan Schneiderlin.