JAMES Ward-Prowse has revealed dreams of playing European football are spurring Saints onto survive a rare period of strife in the Premier League.

Saints have been a top-eight outfit in the elite for four successive seasons and have played Europa League football in the three campaigns preceding this one.

But now Saints find themselves deep in relegation trouble, with their trip to Italian giants Inter Milan – the apex of their recent European adventures last term – all but a distant memory.

Mauricio Pellegrino’s men are out of the bottom three on goal difference alone and face a huge six-pointer against fellow strugglers Stoke at St Mary’s on Saturday in their bid to avoid the drop.

Ahead of the huge showdown, Ward-Prowse, one of the brighter lights in a dark spell for Saints, insists that one of the motivations for the team is getting back into Europe.

"You know, sometimes football goes like that, but I think that's what drives us because we know we're good enough and we know we should be higher up the league,” he said.

"We all have aspirations of playing European football and that drives us on to make sure we get back to those days of playing Europa League football."

Despite their precarious position, Ward-Prowse insists there is no panic in the Saints ranks at all and they are approaching a crunch period with calm.

After facing lowly Potters, Saints head to bottom-half rivals Newcastle and West Ham during a decisive period.

"That's the thing, I mean we're not in a drastic situation where we're bottom of the league and a lot of points away,” Ward-Prowse said.

"We're a win or two from being higher up the league and gaining that momentum.

"So, it's not panic at all, we're looking forward to the rest of the season now."

The 23-year-old midfielder has grown in importance this season, having netted four goals in his last eight games in all competitions.

"I've been pleased with my sort of recent form, to be in and around the goals and a couple of assists as well has been nice,” he said.

"I just keep working hard on my game, I am playing a slightly different position, so keep trying to evolve that and improve myself day to day."

The Staplewood academy graduate gained his first England senior cap last year, coming on as a late substitute in a 1-0 friendly defeat against Germany last March.

He admits that a potential call-up to Gareth Southgate’s squad for this summer’s World Cup in Russia is another motivation for him.

"It has been in the back of my mind since the European Championships finished in the summer,” he said.

"I know that if I can do well in my day-to-day job here at Southampton and help the team win games and perform well on an individual level, then I give myself a chance.

"I want to give myself every chance of being in the squad and if it doesn't happen, then at least I can say I know I gave it everything."