SKIPPER Simon Francis felt defender Chris Mepham “was growing up as a player and a man” before being struck down by a serious knee injury.

The Wales international, who signed for Cherries from Brentford 13 months ago, underwent surgery last month on knee ligament damage.

Mepham, who sustained the injury against Luton in the FA Cup third round, has been pictured back in the gym going through his rehabilitation work.

And Francis said he could see an improvement in the 22-year-old before his knee setback

The club captain, who today celebrates his 35th birthday, told the Daily Echo: “I thought he (Mepham) was improving every single game and he was growing up as a player and as a man.

“I saw a real change in him since he first signed, coming from Brentford.

“He is filling out physically, he is enjoying the aggression side of the game being a centre-half and the battles he’s having.

“He is very good on the ball and has improved in that aspect as well.”

Mepham had started seven Premier League games in a row before picking up the injury.