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Ralph Hails Stephens As A Leader
Thursday, 16th Jan 2020 10:59

Ralph Hasenhuttl has hailed Jack Stephens leadership qualities as a major influence on Saints recent upturn in results.

Speaking ahead of the game against Wolves the Austrian manager said of Stephens.

“He has surprised me with his duels in the defence,” said Hasenhuttl.

“I asked him to be more aggressive and he did well against very good strikers and is good with the ball, I know. He also has good management now, he doesn’t take too much risk. This is a good balance at the moment in all his behaviours. "

“He is a leader in the back four, absolutely. He took the chance with both hands.”

Certainly Saints defence has been tighter and almost unrecognisable in the last month and results have reflected this and Stephens has played his full part, so what has changed in Jack Stephens?

In some respects it can be likened to this period last year when James ward prowse who had been on the fringes of the team in the latter part of Mark Hughes reign and was touted for a move away from St Mary's.

Back then suddenly Ward prowse seemed to find not only focus but confidence, although he had been a first team player for many seasons, he was at a crossroads, you always felt he was lacking belief in himself, he always saw himself as the newcomer, the youngster and deferred to the more experienced players.

Perhaps the same can be said of Stephens, he never had the luxury of playing with central defenders who were either truly class like Van Dyke or Leaders like Jose Fonte, he was often partnered with Yoshida and although the Japanese defender has some good qualities, leadership was not one of them, he is a player that needs to be led and the partnership did not flourish because the balance was not right, Jack Stephens needed a mentor, but that man was never going to be Yoshida who himself always needed someone marshalling him, that is not a criticism, there are many great players who always needed a controlling partner in central defence.

With the dropping of Yoshida and pairing Stephens with Bednarek suddenly Jack was the senior man and it seems to have given him the confidence to play his natural game and it is paying benefits to both him as a player and Saints as a defence.

I have been a big critic of Stephens in the past, this has always been purely on his form on the pitch and to be blunt I think I was justified in that criticism, but do not make constructive criticism to be hatred of the player, I wanted him to do well, I just didn't think he either was A. Playing well or B. Going to be up to the task.

But like any Saints player I want him to do well and I am always pleased to be proved wrong by a player on the pitch and I hope that he continues to prove my initial prognosis of his abilities to be way off the mark.

The responsibility seems to spur him on rather than weigh heavily on him and certainly he looks ten times the player he has looked for much of his time in the first team and indeed even earlier this season.

He still has areas he needs to work on, his reading of the game and ability to defend in the air, but it is wonders what a little confidence will do in these areas and hopefully he can now make himself a better all round player.

There is still a way for him to go, for me to truly be able to say he has proved me wrong and as I have just said there are still some aspects of his game he needs to improve, but he has shown that he ready and willing to face up to the task and that is admirable.

This also highlights how Hasenhuttl has also learned some lessons this season, he has started to learn a little more about man management, how some players need to be treated differently than others and by giving Jack Stephens praise and highlighting this area he has boosted his confidence even more.

Saints still do need another central defender in this transfer window, Jan Bednarek and Jack Stephens are doing well but we have no back up that is up to standard for them currently at the club, Yoshida and Vestergaard are not the answer, so we not only need back up for our current pair, we need someone to put pressure on them for their places to keep their standards high and we also need a third central defender so that Ralph can change formation when he deems it necessary.

Photo: Action Images

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Saintaxidriver added 14:22 - Jan 16
Never one to miss a chance to slag off Yoshida Nick. Your article on him the other day was also very negative about him. It makes me wonder if you had some bad sushi or something. Stephens has stepped up to the plate but in the past has made far more mistakes that cost us games than Maya and although confident on the ball does not always distribute well. You also conveniently forgot that Yoshida has been a first choice regular more often than you want to admit and apart from Gabbiadini was our best player in the cup final 2 years ago.

aceofthebase added 15:38 - Jan 16
This is another pointless article that gives you the chance to knock Yoshida. You also fail to give your wholehearted praise to Stephens and his skill and leadership. You rant on about leadership but I don't think you would recognise a leader if you saw one. Perhaps you are not qualified to pontificate on this subject. Knocking on the sidelines is how you have become over the years Nick and it is very irritating

SaintNick added 16:29 - Jan 16
Firstly I have nothing against Yoshida other than his performances and I hve acknowledged when he has played well, Stephens might well have made more mistakes than Yoshida in the last few years, but going forward Stephens is the better player..

Yoshida has started 135 games for the club in 7 1/2 seasons, 31 of those were in his first season, since then he has ony topped 20 starts in 2016/17 & 2017/18 and in both those seasons it was only 23 appearances in each season, so hardly a first choice .

If you think that letting in 3 goals in a cup final one of which was the winner when Ibramhovich headed home unmarked from close range is a man of the match performance then you dont have high standards for our central defence.

Yoshida has been a good loyal club man and played a part in the last 8 years, but not one of our best players im afraid

SaintNick added 16:36 - Jan 16
aceofbase, Firstly i am not knocking Yoshida only pointing out facts, anyone think he should play Saturday ? .... No didn't think so, since the start of last season he has started 23 games, so not the first name on the teamsheet.

Secondly what is wholehearted praise, I gave a opinion on Stephens, when he has played another half dozen decent games I will give him more praise and if he plays like he has done for the rest of the season then I will give him wholehearted praise, six games is a start but it's not a consistent spell just yet.

I don't knock on the sidelines I just give an honest opinion and try to point out why I have criticised, I never just say a player is rubbish per se.

Im knocking players because for the last three seasons there hasn't been much to cheer at times, in fact I have been much fairer on most of our under performing at times players than most of our fanbase on social media, I have just shown I will praise someone when praise is due

underweststand added 16:43 - Jan 16
I go along with the headline at least. Jack got some bad press when he first came into the side, and not without cause but with a new back line every other game it was no doubt that he was inconsistant. The permutations between Hoedt, Yoshida and Vestergaard were confusing for us - let alone those in the team.
Jack looked uncertain after being thrown in (after VvD was crocked by Jamie Vardy) and suddenly we were without Virgil AND Fonte. (Bad deal that one Claude), and it was left
to Yoshida to " babysit " him at CB and try to coach him along in a poor backline.
(More credit to Maya on that one please).

However, since the 0-9 Jack seems to have taken his chance by the scruff of the neck - NOTE: another Academy graduate - even if he was a long time coming.
Aside from the predictable criticism of Yoshida ( Nick) we do still need cover at CB in case of injury or suspensions as it's painfully clear that neither Hoedt ot Vestergaard are the answer and Maya will obviously go - sooner or later, but Jack's CB combination with Bednarek, (though not perfect yet) looks like the best pairing we've had in a couple of seasons.

WestSussexSaint added 18:43 - Jan 16
I’ll hold my hands up that Stephens turnaround in performance has surprised me and I was one who thought he had no future at the club not so long ago. So let’s celebrate his achievement and not spoiling it by knocking a team mate.

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