Dean Hammond is in contention for a return to the Saints team for tonight’s trip to Exeter.

The central midfielder has been missing since limping off during the FA Cup win over Blackpool at St Mary’s just over three weeks ago.

Hammond has been suffering with a calf problem and in the matches since his absence Saints have won one, lost one and drawn one in the league as well as the defeat by Manchester United in the FA Cup.

Hammond will immediately challenge Richard Chaplow and Morgan Schneiderlin for a place in the team.

Schneiderlin would appear to be the most likely to make way if Nigel Adkins decides to give Hammond an immediate recall.

Reports from Exeter suggest that the St James Park pitch is not in the greatest of condition and so it may suit Hammond’s combative style more than Schneiderlin’s slick passing game.

Adam Lallana and David Connolly are also close to a return from injury but Adkins may feel that tonight’s game will come too soon for them.

It won’t be an easy test for Saints tonight against an Exeter team who have a decent home record this season.

They have won six, drawn four and lost two of their matches on their own turf this season and only three clubs in League One have scored more goals at home than them this season – the top two, Brighton and Bournemouth, as well as free scoring Peterborough.

They will be missing keeper Paul Jones who yesterday completed a deadline day move to Saints’ promotion rivals Peterborough for the rest of the season.

Saints will be very keen to get their league campaign back on track after the distraction of the United game.

Before that, a run of five wins in a row in all competitions was interrupted by a goalless draw against Notts County at St Mary’s and a loss at Tranmere.

Saints go into this evening’s game sat fourth in League One.

They are eight points behind league leaders Brighton with both sides having played the same number of games.

The other automatic promotion spot is currently occupied by Bournemouth, who are five points clear but Saints have two games in hand.

Saints also have a game in hand over third placed Huddersfield who are two points ahead of Adkins’ men.