MARIO Lemina admits he had to start back from square one after an ankle injury halted his excellent early progress at Saints.

The Gabon international moved for a club-record £17m fee from Juventus in August and was starting to produce top performances when an ankle problem sidelined him in October.

The 24-year-old former Marseille man missed two games and admits it was a set-back that cost him and Saints.

Speaking through a translator, Lemina said: “Coming back from that injury I had to start from fresh again, build up my confidence from nothing, while I was watching my team-mates play when I wanted to help them.

“It’s just building up that confidence again now.”

He added: “The injury was a set-back because I was adapting to life in England, but I’m starting to build up confidence in it now.

“I don’t think it will be long before I’m back to 100 per cent.

“It took a long time to get over, but now things are getting better and I’m working hard – I’m gaining confidence all the time while I’m training and playing.”

Lemina performances meant he became a fans’ favourite almost immediately and his name is already being sung in the stands.

He is grateful for the warm welcome.

“I’m really thankful for the reception I’ve had from the fans,” he said. “Part of the reason why I haven’t been happy in the last few games is because I know how much they’ve given to me in the games and that’s why the performances have hurt me a little bit.

“I want to thank them – they’ve been brilliant with me.”

Despite Saints’ struggles in the Premier League, the central midfielder says he’s enjoying his stay at St Mary’s so far and is confident they have the quality to rise back up the top-flight.

“I’m really enjoying life at Southampton,” he said. “It’s what I was looking for. I feel calm here and I’m enjoying working hard.”

“Everyone knows from past seasons that we have great players here,” he continued.

“We’ve got the ability to play good football and the potential to be in the top six – if you look at seasons gone by.

“All that’s missing is the last piece in the jigsaw and that’s confidence to help us get back up the table.”

Lemina believes it was the right decision to come to St Mary’s from Italy.

He said: “It wasn’t a difficult decision at all. It was the right decision. It was something I needed – I wanted to play.

“I’m in this game to play football – I’m not here to watch it.

“Coming here to Southampton for the game time really attracted me.”

“I liked the project here at Southampton, so it was the right moment and right decision,” he added.

“There’s really healthy competition in the midfield. We’ve got some great central midfielders and that can only be good for the team. Everyone is pushing to get into the team.”

“The main difference between Ligue 1 and the Premier League is the space you get and the physicality of it,” he said, comparing the leagues he’s played in.

“But with regards to Italy it’s more tactical than the Premier League.”

Ahead of Huddersfield trip to St Mary’s on Saturday, he said reflected on the 0-0 draw at the Terries in August.

“It was a hard game and they were very strong in the air. It was a typically English game. It was actually my second match in England, so it was getting used to the play then,” he said.

“From what I saw that day it will be an extremely difficult game on Saturday.”

Lemina has enjoyed working with Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino.

“Pellegrino has spoken with me and he’s helped me,” he said. “I’m a player who thrives on confidence and Mauricio has been helping me and added things to my game. I’m enjoying working with him.”