KEITH Southern reckons he has “a lot to prove” next season – and he’s training through the summer to make sure he is in perfect nick.
Southern was deeply disappointed his dream year in the Premier League wasn’t as successful as he’d hoped, due to a knee injury which ruined the first half of the campaign.
He broke back into the team towards the end of the season, linking up with David Vaughan and Charlie Adam in the centre of midfield and rekindling memories of the Seasiders’ Championship promotion campaign, when the trio had been so integral to success.
With Vaughan gone and Adam likely to be sold, Southern has a key role to play next year.
And he wants to make sure he is in the best possible shape.
“I didn’t want last season to end to be honest. I was gutted,” said the 30-year-old.
“I had a real strong run at the end of the season where I was playing week in, week out, and as far as I’m concerned it was really bad timing the season coming to an end.
“I was so disappointed because I feel fit, I feel fresh, and I am raring to go.
“The close season is only a few weeks old but I am going to train through the summer.
“I feel I didn’t achieve what I should have achieved last season and I’ve got a lot to prove.
“I’m still fit as a fiddle, and I was just disappointed that it ended when it did, I felt as though I was just getting going.”
Despite his frustration, Southern did enjoy the experience of being in the top flight – and was just happy to play some part.
When he first suffered his knee injury – in a pre-season friendly at Bristol City last summer – he thought he might not play in the Premier League at all.
“When I first did it I was devastated because it felt really bad, really painful, and different to what I had in the past,” he said.
“I thought it was a bad one and that my season could be over. Then, thank God, I got the news that it wasn’t so bad.
“Did I enjoy the season? I enjoyed spells. It was nice at the age of 29 to get a chance in the Premier League.
“You look at players like Billy Clarke. His opportunity was robbed away from him because of a freak injury right at the start of pre-season – and that could have been me.
“My knee injury was nowhere near as severe as Billy’s, but you do think ‘could it rob me of my chance of playing in the Premier League?’
“Billy will get another opportunity, being only 21.
“But at 29, you start to think ‘will I get another chance?’
“I look back a little bit sad because I had played 40-odd games in the Championship season, and to not really stamp my authority on the side or the league until the last couple of months was disappointing.
“But that’s football. These things happen and I will still take away some brilliant memories.
“We’ve played at some fantastic grounds.
“I made my debut away at Newcastle, which was very special to me.
“So there are some fantastic memories – it was just a shame that we couldn’t stay up on the last day.”