JAKE Hesketh is starting to make waves again for Saints Under-23s – but, despite this, a first-team return seems a long way off for the 21-year-old attacker.

Hesketh, who has been viewed as a bright hope for the future for some years at St Mary's, has been shortlisted for the Premier League 2's player of the month, having netted four goals in three matches for the club's age group side in November.

The Hampshire lad, who grew up in Fareham, has worked his way back from a series of frustrating fitness problems to once again prove himself in the academy, having spent 10 months on the sidelines with two separate injuries.

Now, the slightly built forward faces an ever heightening hurdle to leap over to make it into Mauricio Pellegrino's first team, which is not short of players already in the queue for game time.

It is a jump he's made before, but every time he has heartbreakingly suffered injuries and had to start back at square one with a new manager to impress every time.

During Ronald Koeman's era in charge in 2014/15, an 18-year-old Hesketh broke through for the first time, making his debut in a 2-1 Premier League defeat against Manchester United at St Mary's in December 2014.

He sufficiently impressed Koeman to make his first start in the following game against Burnley, but this appearance only lasted 32 minutes after Michael Keane's strong tackle saw him limp off injured.

Subsequently, Koeman never turned to Hesketh again following the difficult time at Turf Moor, with the view that perhaps Hesketh needed to become stronger to cope with the stresses and strains of the physical surroundings of the Premier League.

Despite the set back, Hesketh went onto make 22 appearances that campaign for the under-21s, eventually helping Martin Hunter's side lift the Under-21 Premier League Cup.

But it wasn't until Claude Puel took over for the 2016/17 season that Hesketh was once again back in the frame for a first-team appearance. He impressed this time, too.

An outstanding display in the League Cup at St Mary's against Crystal Palace in September 2016, which he capped off with a goal in the 2-0 win, earned him a start against Hapoel Be'er Sheva in the Europa League group stages.

However, in the daunting and hostile setting of the Turner Stadium in south Israel, Hesketh, perhaps understandably, struggled to adapt, and was subsequently withdrawn before half-time for Dusan Tadic as Puel looked to protect one of the academy’s rising stars.

It was a disappointing moment and his final involvement in the first team last term, with injuries hampering his progress once more.

A four-month lay-off until the end of February meant all the momentum he gained from his outings under Puel dissipated.

He returned to action for the under-23s, but the youngster went onto battle a hamstring injury, which kept him out for a further six months before again returning at the end of October to under-23s action.

"It's a long time to be out and it's very frustrating sitting and watching everyone train and play, so to be back in and around it is really exciting," he said.

Despite, the injury issues, Saints have stuck by Hesketh, who has been at the club since he was eight years old, and this time last year signed a four-and-a-half year contract.

Now, Hesketh must wait on another first-team chance and hope, this time, when it comes, he finally sticks around and his fitness holds out.

It must be said that it's more difficult than ever for a player to breakthrough now, with Pellegrino having quite a few options to choose from.

But Hesketh can't be ignored if his form continues for the under-23s.