CAPTAIN Simon Francis has warned his Cherries team-mates “we have to start thinking that we’re in a relegation battle” after suffering four straight Premier League defeats.

Cherries sat sixth in the Premier League table after six games following victory at Southampton, just one point off the top four, but a run of only one win in the following nine matches has seen them tumble down the table.

Following Tuesday night’s abject 1-0 loss to 10-man Crystal Palace, Eddie Howe’s charges remain stuck in the bottom half of the table and will on Saturday be looking to avoid a fifth straight league defeat for the first time since 2013 when runaway leaders Liverpool come to Vitality Stadium (3pm).

And Francis, who returned from suspension as a second-half substitute at Selhurst Park, is concerned about the recent slump.

He told the Daily Echo: “We didn’t produce a team performance that was worthy of getting a result on Tuesday and we paid the price.

“I think as soon as (Mamadou) Sakho got sent off, I certainly felt like it could be a game for us where we could completely dominate, start creating chances and go and score goals.

“It didn’t work out that way and that’s the biggest disappointment, like the manager said when he came in the changing room, that we just didn’t look like ourselves.

“We’ve got injuries to the squad, but it’s not excuses because we’ve still got a good enough team out there to win matches in the Premier League. Right now, we’ve got to roll our sleeves up because there’s teams below us that are going to be catching us and we have to start thinking that we’re in a relegation battle.”

Asked if Cherries may have become complacent after making a strong start to the campaign, Francis added: “Potentially, yeah. I think that’s a normal mindset to have when you’re doing well in the Premier League.

“When you’re looking at the top six at one stage and it’s not necessarily you’re fault, it’s human nature to not think that you’re in a relegation battle then suddenly you go on a run of not winning games and you’re dropping down the table and that’s the realism of it.

“We’ve lost the game (at Palace) and we have to start realising that we’ve got to win games sooner rather than later otherwise we will be within that bottom three, four or five.”

Following surgery to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament suffered on Boxing Day last year, Francis made his first Premier League start in 11 months in the home clash with Wolves in November.

But his afternoon ended early, sent off in the 37th minute following two bookings, both for fouls on Diogo Jota as Cherries went down 2-1.

Reflecting on his emotions from that afternoon, Francis said: “Personally disappointed, gutted, embarrassed a little bit because after 11 months out you start picturing that first Premier League game back and that’s not exactly the way I pictured it, to be sent off.

“So it wasn’t ideal, but that’s gone now. Nobody is thinking about the Wolves game because we’ve got another game on Saturday, a huge game and lots more games coming up to look forward and to focus on.”

Defeat to Liverpool on Saturday would mark five straight league losses for Cherries for the first time in over six years when they were beaten by Preston, Sheffield United, Coventry, Leyton Orient and Doncaster in succession in League One.

But losing four in a row is not uncommon ground with Cherries having now suffered that fate in each of their five top-flight campaigns since promotion.

“That’s the positive that I would take from this and I will reiterate it to the lads and I’m sure the manager will, that we have been at this stage before, we have had experiences unfortunately of losing games in a row,” said Francis.

“But we’ve always bounced back. We’ve stayed in the Premier League.

“This is our fifth year now.

“I don’t see us being in a relegation battle as long as we start putting in performances, but it has to start happening soon, otherwise we will be.”