AS SIMON Francis surveyed the wreckage of a 6-0 defeat, he could have been forgiven for asking what he had let himself in for.

Signed on loan from Charlton, Francis looked on from the substitutes’ bench as Cherries were tonked by Brentford in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Spared a debut in the area quarter-final at Griffin Park seven years ago tomorrow, Francis could never have anticipated what the future would hold for him or his new club.

When his move was made permanent for the princely sum of £25,000 in January 2012, Cherries were struggling in the lower reaches of League One.

And just weeks later, his manager, close friend and former Southend United team-mate Lee Bradbury was shown the door at Dean Court.

Francis went on to make the right-back position his own and was crowned supporters’ player of the year following Cherries’ first season in the Championship.

Now 33, he has continued to stand the test of time and only 12 players have made more league appearances for Cherries.

Should he feature against Newcastle on Saturday, Francis would bring to 300 his number of games in all competitions for the club and draw level with Marc Pugh on 274 in the league.

“I knew the 300 was getting close but you just keep your head down until you get there and then recognise how much of an achievement it is,” said Francis. “I will be really proud.

“It was difficult for me not playing at the start of the season. It was the first time it had happened to me in a long time, especially under this manager.

“I just wanted to prove I could still cut it with these lads. The players here now, especially the younger lads, are my inspiration and motivation to perform well day in, day out in training.

“While I can still do that, I want to get as many games as I can. I have fought my way back into the team and want to stay there. I am enjoying playing.

“Hitting the top 10 in the appearance list is certainly something I would like to reach. Hopefully, I can get there but I am just concentrating on one game at a time and Newcastle is a massive one.”

Francis, who in May extended his contract until 2020, added: “I don’t often look back apart from maybe in the summer when we have time off. There will be plenty of time to reflect when you retire.

“But I remember when I first came here and sat on the bench for the 6-0 defeat at Brentford. I had just signed from Charlton and was thinking ‘how is this going to go’!

“The rise has been incredible and my career has been on a parallel with the club ever since I came.

“I have a lot of people to thank for being involved in that. Lee Bradbury brought me here and then the manager came back and has really pushed my career.

“We just don’t want it to stop. When you get days like we had against Manchester United on Saturday, it really puts into perspective how far we have come and how we can mix it with the big boys and don’t see those games as a free hit any more.”

Francis anticipates another competitive encounter at St James’s Park.

“I think it will be a really tough game," he said.

“Newcastle are fighting for points at the bottom and we are in a different position but equally fighting for points to remain where we are.

“We know how tough these games can be. Perhaps we made the mistake of going to Burnley thinking it might have been an easier game than it was and we got turned over 4-0, which was embarrassing.

“But we bounced straight back in the next game and these games are all about having the right mentality and mindset.

“We will pick ourselves up again and look at the positives from Manchester United and give Newcastle a real go.”