SKIPPER Simon Francis stressed the need for Cherries to “hit the ground running” when the club’s top-flight survival mission resumes next month.

The defender and the rest of his team-mates this week learned their target to be match ready, with the top-flight announcing play will resume behind closed doors on June 17.

Cherries are expected to feature in their first game back during the weekend following the first midweek fixtures – with nine games left to climb out of the bottom three.

The Dorset club are currently in the drop zone on goal difference, with 27 points from their opening 29 games.

Asked how tough it was to look at the table, speaking before the restart date was announced, Francis told the Daily Echo: “It is tough and it makes it even harder when we do go back because we have to hit the ground running.

“It’s not like a new season where you can ease into the season and the first couple of games you are finding your feet and getting the performances there.

“We have got to start back out of the blocks with a bang, when we get the chance to do so. The weeks of training are going to be more important than ever.

“It will be hard to find a balance not to train too hard and pick up injuries to the squad – but obviously we need to get up to match fitness fairly quick as well.”

Nottingham-born Francis was an integral part of Howe’s squad who won the Championship back in 2015, gaining promotion to England’s elite level.

The 35-year-old has since gone on to make 136 Premier League appearances, only Steve Cook (161), Joshua King (154) and Adam Smith (137) have represented the club on more occasions in the top flight.