Can Jack Stephens Be The Come Back Kid Again for Southampton
Monday, 8th Nov 2021 10:40
Jack Stephens was having a nice little run in the team being the only central defender to play in the opening 5 Premier League fixtures before injury hit after only 37 minutes in the game at Manchester City. Now he is apparently on the verge of returning to full time training, can he again be the Come Back Kid
Sometimes football is a fickle mistress as they say, last season Jack Stephens played only 18 Premier League games for Saints, 5 of those coming in the final weeks of the season and for most of the term he was behind both Jan Bednarek & Jannik Vestergaard with Mohammed Salisu coming in on the rails.
So there were perhaps few who saw much future for him at the club especially after the signing of Lyanco.
But Jack Stephens is a good reliable squad member and he rolled his sleeves up and played in the opening 5 Premier League fixtures of this season, but just as Saints were starting to get a decent start to the season, injury struck and he was forced off just before the break in the 0-0 draw at Manchester City.
On came Mohammed Salisu, a surprise omission from the side to be honest and the rest as they say is history, Salisu and Bednarek have formed a solid partnership at the back and Lyanco has emerged with a sterling performance at Chelsea in the League cup as well as a couple of good cameo roles in the Premier League off the bench.
In the 6 games played since that came up at the Etihad, Saints have conceded only 6 goals, 3 of them being in the game at Chelsea when they where capitulated in the last 6 minutes to let in 2 after James Ward Prowse's sending off.
Indeed they have had 3 clean sheets in the last 4 games with Salisu and Bednarek looking complimentary and the Ghanaian looking a class act.
So Stephens returns not as first choice but perhaps fourth, behind the aforementioned three and it shows how much the squad has improved that in such a short time he has gone down the pecking order, Ralph Hasenhuttl is building a squad where you have to perform to get your place, he has this to say about Stephens progress:
"The time is going past fast, I am surprised to hear now that it has been that long (seven weeks) since he picked up his injury,"
"He is in a good way. He has had a few individual sessions on the grass already so it is looking good.
"We have the international break now but maybe he is back for us after then. We'll have a look at him."
Initially Stephens was said to be out for 12 weeks and as Ralph has said it has been only 7 since his injury, but with a two week international break it will be 9 weeks so it could be he is ready to be back with the squad a few weeks early.
But he will find it hard to get back into the side, this is not running down Stephens, as a squad player I have no qualms about him, he can come in and do a job, he is just not a 38 game a season man, every squad needs a Jack Stephens in it.
Since joining the club in 2011 aged 17 from Plymouth it has been a roller coaster ride for the central defender, he made his debut in the FA Cup in January 2012 as an 87th minute sub, but it would be another 5 years before he made his Premier League debut at Everton in January 2017 as he was about to turn 23.
He had spent much of the time in the 3 years preceding that game at Goodison out on loan, some good such as Swindon and some bad such as Middlesbrough where he made just one solitary Championship appearance for 10 minutes as a sub before both clubs agreed he should return to St Mary's in January 2016.
At that stage he went back out on loan this time to Coventry in League One and played regularly there,
2016/17 saw him stay at St Mary's but start the season as 4th choice behind Fonte, Van Dijk & Yoshida and his prospects didn't look good, however with Fonte deciding his future lay elsewhere and Van Dijk getting injured, suddenly he was in the side and within 7 weeks of his Premier League debut was playing in the EFL Cup final at Wembley.
In the past 5 years he has continued a roller coaster ride at St Mary's in the Premier League he has started just 105 games plus 9 as sub in a little under 5 seasons, perhaps illustrating how he has had to battle for a place as Saints signed a plethora of central defenders in that time.
But is the come back kid at the end of the road, at least for the time being, in the past the likes of Jannik Vestergaard and Wesley Hoedt have not been able to convince the managers of the time that they were the solution and in came Jack, but now things look a bit different, Jan bednarek is an experienced International and the start of this season aside a nailed on first choice, Mohammed Salisu looks a class act and Lyanco has something about him, not to mention Dynel Simeu who is highly rated.
Jack Stephens has risen to every challenge so far and has outlasted everyone of them, but the problem is that loyalty is not what gets you results in the Premier League, Stephens is a great servant to Southampton FC and next summer will be entitled to a testimonial and he would deserve one.
But the issue is as the stats show, he is not a first choice central defender at this level, he can have some great games, but he can't find the consistency needed to play 38 games a season and there lies the problem.
As a back up I applaud him, but if he is the first choice then we have a problem, to be truthful yes we have had a problem in the back four since Fonte & Van Dijk left, but for the first time in that time we seemed to have solved it through the transfer window,
This is not a hatchet job on Jack Stephens, indeed I have gone out of my way to highlight his many good points and his loyalty and service to the club has been exemplary, we need him in the squad.
I did not wish him to be out of the side through injury, but I am realistic about where his role lies in this club, if we want to progress in the premier League then we have to keep making good signings.
I suspect that Jack will outlast a few of these signings who will go on to greater things and that is the good thing about him, he is the Come Back Kid, he is not finished yet.
Photo: Action Images
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