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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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underweststand added 11:10 - Nov 8
Jack Stephens - the comeback Kid? -
Some game time will help him re-discover that early season form, (when he looked good alongside Mo Salisu), and he will definitely be needed after the New Year when Salisu will be away in The African Cup games for a month or more.

Together with Bednarek and Lyanco, Jack's return gives us more flexible choices at CB , and perhaps even the prospect of seeing Yan Valery again in his new defensive role.
What a change from last season when we were trying "cut-and-paste" to find a workable side to play those winter /springtime games.

SaintPaulVW added 11:30 - Nov 8
Always admired his attitude but I concede that Stephens tends to be great in short bursts. Seems to lose concentration if he is in the team too long.

More choice at CB is good and will be vital during Africa Nations cup when Salisu is off for a month or so. So good that he is back early.

SaintNick added 11:40 - Nov 8
Salisu is far from sure of going to AFCON as he made himself unavailable for Ghana as he felt he wasnt ready for international duty and wanted to concentrate on club football first, since his success this season there are calls for the Ghana manager to get him to change his mind

GasGiant added 12:07 - Nov 8
Why does every article about Stephens have to include some comment about how he is never going to be a regular player in the side? Is it some kind of contractual obligation never to just consider him as a Saints Player and wish him well rather than issue a reminder that you don't think he's really that good? I've never seen this negative attitude about any other squad member. He was playing well before, he deserved to be in the side on merit, he got injured. If he comes back playing as well as he did previously he'd be back in the team on merit again. Is that a bad thing?

Colburn added 12:53 - Nov 8
I agree GasGiant (unsurprisingly). We must be into double figures now for these not so subtle articles written purely to reinforce a biased and unbalanced opinion on Jack Stephens.
Indeed, had it have been Jack who was too easily rolled by Jimenez for the home loss to Wolves, and the same applies with the equaliser at home to Burnley, when the same centre back was too easily rolled by Cornet, then the knives would have been out and we would have been bombarded by articles from you saying how you have been proven right all along, etc, etc. But because it was Bednarek who made these errors, they were not even detailed in your match verdict.. So in fact, Jack has been more solid overall this season than Jan and with a better distribution, particularly with balls over the top, the evidence would suggest that Jack is the better suited to partner Salisu, who has also been rather iffy at times with his passing and this has also escaped your attention or reporting. His aggression, anticipation and potential though means he is worthy of his spot. Lyanco also looks good but has also made errors which again, if made by Stephens, may have been highlighted on this site..
I rest my case for the defence..

WestSussexSaint added 12:59 - Nov 8
From what I have seen of the 4 “main” centre backs this season the one I have been least impressed with is Bednarek. He has been bullied off the ball which led to the Wolves win and he looks nervous on the ball every time we play out from the back, which is Ralph’s preferred tactic.

As for Lyanco it’s still too early to say although the last couple of appearances are encouraging.

So for me, if and when Stephens is fit again, I could see him slotting back in with Salisu. He proved in those early games that he was the leader on the pitch that we fans had been crying out for and while he has his faults as a player I don’t think his performance this season have been any worse than Bednarek’s and he has more experience than Lyanco.

Saidou added 13:05 - Nov 8
He may have his flaws but surely deserves the chance to fight for his place. I like how competition for places is heating up at the right time. Only 5 teams have a better squad balance than us: city, united, chelsea, L'pool and Liecester.

If our forwards can get more clinical, and we can avoid red cards during games,then a top 7 finish is clearly possible. Think about the Chelsea game in the EFL, we made nine changes compared to their four and we fought them toe to toe on their own turf. Not many teams can make that much changes and still remain competitive.

At the moment the only thing letting us down is our finishing. This worries me a lot tbh.

TimSaint added 13:11 - Nov 8
Because of his injury, he has understandably now dropped down to 4th choice. He will need to put in a few good performances and prove his fitness with the B team before he makes the first team bench, but of course, he is capable. He will no doubt get his chance over the busy December to mid-January period, especially as the yellow cards mount up, as well as the number of games we have to play.
Others grabbed their chances when they got opportunities in his absence, so it is up to Jack to do the same when he gets his.

SaintNick added 13:21 - Nov 8
I actually wrote this article as a tribute to Jack Stephens, was there anything in it that i wrote that wasn't factual ? I paid tribute to the way he has bounced back when out of the team whether through injury or out of favour. I have been honest about the last 5 years, yes he has had some good spells but in this his 6th season since his Premier League debut the number of games speaks for itself.

The article was not subtle I was upfront about what I think his role is at the club and i emphasised that on any number of occasions, if he was better than I am saying then he would have played approaching 200 League games for the club by now since his debut, the stats speak for themselves, if he had played 150 games say and we had been one of the best defences in the League then I wouldnt have a leg to stand on

I agree Bednarek was rolled too easily against Wolves, against Burnley I think he held off and didn't dive in and didn't expect Cornet to fly one in from 25 yards or so.

But overall he has been our best defender in the last 3 years and usually makes few mistakes

I hope Jack Stephens is still here in a years time and i hope that people are still giving me stick about his abilities, because that will mean he has played exactly the role he has done for the past few years and that is provide a great back up to our first choice central defenders and be able to do so for 6-8 games at a time if needed.

The man gives 100% effort and 100% commitment can't ask more than him than that, you never see rants about him from me as some do against Redmond and others at certain times with phrases like "Get out of our club " I appreciate what he can do but also what he cant

saintsfanbrock added 14:18 - Nov 8
If Salisu refuses to go to AFCON won’t the Ghanaian association just do the same thing as the Brazil association threatened to do in a October and have him banned from playing club football during the tournament to make an example of him?

landsdownsaint added 14:25 - Nov 8
Time to move on from considering Stephens as a first team player he may have the odd solid game but has always been far too inconsistent & for me he’s not a premier league player … Bednarek will soon find himself struggling for first team football imho

SaintPaulVW added 19:45 - Nov 8
A player as good as Salisu will be picked by Ghana. He isn't going to say no.

IWOZTHERE added 16:54 - Nov 9
I agree that Bednarek has been bullied by opponents lately, but if there's a change, Lyanco seems to be Ralph's 'blue eyed boy'. Another 'favourite' in the making?... It seems to be working at the moment anyway?.... Whatever, It's useful to have Jack on call. It's good to have someone who doesn't make waves when he's not in the team?..... Now we've got a bigger squad, I wonder if the likes of KWP, Perraud, and others will get fed up with playing 'second fiddle?'

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