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Russell Martin Must Stop Shoehorning Jack Stephens Into The Saints Side
Monday, 11th Mar 2024 09:50

Much of the talk on Southampton fan websites after the win over Sunderland has been about the change of dynamics in the defensive line up and most fans are clear where the problem lies.

Before I elaborate I must be completely clear that this is not a witch hunt against Jack Stephens, some of the abuse seen towards him this weekend and indeed other players during this season has been uncalled for, but I recognise that over the past 7 years Jack has been a great servant to the club and a good player to have in the squad.

I therefore do not take it lightly to have to put up a headline such as this one, but the reality of the situation is that Saints have gone from just a few weeks ago being one of the strongest defences in the Championship to being one of the worst.

But this is not down to Jack Stephens, at least not directly, in the main his performances have been ok and he has played a part in some of our wins since his return from injury, the blame does not lie with Jack here, but Russell martin who has seen fit to break up one of the best central defensive partnerships for on the face of it no other reason than to fit Jack Stephens into the side.

For the last 3 games Jack has been in the centre of the defence and Taylor Harwood-Bellis, a player considered one of our best players this season has been shunted to right back, a position that he has never really played before, he is very much a central defender.

These 3 games have seen us concede 7 goals, contrast that with our 22 game unbeaten run in the League where we conceded just 16, yes Jack Stephens played a part in that run, but he was playing a bit part rather than being made the lynchpin of the defence.

After his return from injury in December it was clear that Russell Martin wanted to give him a game, Mason Holgate's time at St Mary's might not have been a success, but in his final appearance for the club in the League he was man of the match in a home win against West Bromwich Albion, at that stage back in early November after also playing a part in a win at Stoke and a draw at Preston, he might have been hoping for more game time, but this would be his last League appearance for the club.

A month or so later Jack Stephens was back in the squad and the writing was on the wall for Holgate, the first sign of what was going to happen came in the 1-0 win at QPR, on 86 minutes and QPR looking for an equaliser, you might have thought that Mason Holgate would be deployed, you would not have thought that a player who had been out for nearly 4 months would be thrown in at this point, even more bizarely was just where he was playing, our back four remained intact, what Jack's job was is still a mystery, with the sending off of Shea Charles I think it was in the centre of midfield.

That was a little baffling, but it was a sign of what was to come, starting Jack against Swansea at St Mary's at right back on the face of it was a natural move, Jack can play in this position, but moving Kyle Walker Peters up field seemed to confirm that this was about giving Jack a game more than tactical.

The trip to Norwich City on New Years Day saw the first real tinkering, we reverted to a back three with Jack on the right and we were disjointed, the pattern followed over the next couple of months, leading up to the Millwall home game when Russell Martin finally felt that he could change things and came out into the open.

The manager clearly pins a lot of hope on Jack Stephens making him his Captain and talking about his leadership qualities at every opportunity even during his time out injured, I don't mind this, managers should talk up their players, but the problem here is that there is little evidence of his leadership, at this point I had watched Jack over 100 times and Russell martin 4, yes I have been critical of Jack over the years, but I have always tried to be pragmatic about it, I don't get personal, I just look at players as I see it, I have never tried to say Jack Stephens is a bad player, I have always acknowledged that he is a good squad player, just that I don't think he is first choice.

As for the manager making him Captain, this was just bizarre, but it should be said that there are few other candidates that stand out for the job.

But a Captain needs to have more than leadership qualities, firstly he needs to be a first team regular, a nailed on starter, that has not been the case for Jack during his time at St Mary's, since his League debut in January 2017 he has started just 119 games for the club, taking out his year at Bournemouth that is averaging around 20 games a season.

The Captaincy was given to Adam Armstrong in Jack's absence, this is not a good move in my book, much as I like Adam as a player, I don't see him as a leader and I think that Captains should be leading from either the back or centre of midfield, in a role where they can see the game and make tactical changes.

The Captain has to lead on the pitch, in the last 3 games we have shot ourselves in the foot too often, there has been a lack of leadership, no one taking charge during the game, dictating the pace and more to the point when the chips are down it needs someone to rally the troops, perhaps slow the game down, take the emphasis off charging forward, but keeping it tight at the back and not playing risky football.

On Saturday for the 3rd game running we saw a side that we should have been putting away, over running us and scoring 2 goals or more, when we conceded the equaliser in the 71st minute, we were a disorganised rabble.

Perhaps this could be a turning point though, for 2 minutes after the Sunderland 2nd goal , Jack was hauled off, James bree a natural right back brought on and suddenly we were back to being a tight organised defensive unit again, now that didn't put all things right, when we didn't have the ball we were tight, but when we had it we still persisted in trying to pass the ball when a pass wasn't on, but that is another story.

But we had square pegs in round holes again, we had arguably the best two central defender back together again.

If we are to put together a late run for Automatic promotion then we need to do what we did in our 22 game unbeaten run, make it hard to score against us, so hopefully Russell Martin has learned a massive lesson in the game on Saturday, that he has to stop shoehorning Jack Stephens into the side for the sake of it, Jack might well be a popular player in the dressing room, but his team mates still know when he deserves to be in the team and when he doesn't

Jack Stephens was not to blame for the goals shipped in the past three games, at least not directly, but his shoehorning into the side by Russell Martin has done him no favours and if it continues then it could create divisions in the squad.

I feel for Jack here, he himself will know that he hasn't got in the side on merit, he will know that had he started at right back on Saturday or indeed in the previous two games, then he might well have played in a strong tight defence and be looking at keeping his place.

As it stands though may well now be back on the bench and behind KWP, James Bree & Ryan Manning for the two full back spots.

He more than anyone is a victim of circumstance, Russell Martin has done him no favours and now the manager has to surely eat humble pie and learn from his mistakes, he also has to hand Jack another snub, he has to remove the captaincy from him and indeed Adam Armstrong and find a member of the squad who is firstly a nailed on starter in the side and secondly a true leader of men, this might be the most difficult task of the season for him.

Who do you think should be Captain, vote now in our Saints Captaincy Poll

Photo: Action Images

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redwight added 10:31 - Mar 11
Square pegs in square holes Nick - that's the whole point!

saintsfanbrock added 10:38 - Mar 11
Taylor Harwood-Bellis may not have played right back for us before this spell but he has played it for other teams before including City. If City have played him there with all of their options then clearly by the team that trained him it is considered one of his positions.

131153 added 10:43 - Mar 11
Two points regarding the above on Saturday Jack did spend a lot of time talking to the Ref about some of his decisions, secondly JB is walking a tightrope I believe regarding a 2 game ban when he is next booked.

JoeEgg added 10:53 - Mar 11
"the manager has to surely eat humble pie and learn from his mistakes"

This manager will never eat humble pie. The players are NOT the problem. It is Mr Tippy Tappy manager himself that is the problem. I simply do not like his style - every time he opens his mouth he makes me cringe! We need a strong individual to manage potentially a promising squad. quite simply nick, Russell Martin is not our man.

codge added 12:27 - Mar 11
Well l am for the first time in complete agreement with you Nick,most times l find something to disagree with but not this time,your always very helpful with your comments and l appreciate your insights thank you.COYR

ItchenNorth added 13:09 - Mar 11
What has James Bree got to do to get a game these days ! Until KWP returns, for me it's Ryan Manning left, James Bree right. Why make it more complicated than that. The centre backs are Janny B and THB.

SaintPaulVW added 13:11 - Mar 11
I'm OK with Stephens being given some time in the side. Particularly as very soon Bednarek could be out for 2 games.

However, when they are all fit/available, if we aren't playing Bree, JB, THB and KWP as our first choice defence then I think we aren't playing our strongest side.

SaintNick added 13:46 - Mar 11
With regard to whether THB had played right back before, he seems to have done so 5 times before this season

September 2020 for Man City against Burnley in the League cup 24 mins as sub
April 2021 for Man City against Cheltenham in FA Cup 68 mins starting line up
February 2021 Blackburn V QPR Championship 28 mins as sub
February 2021 Blackburn V Barnsley Championship 90 mins starting line up
March 2022 Stoke V Millwall Championship 90 mins starting line up

So not a great deal of experience in this position, seems to be as a fill in when needed

SaintEPW added 16:15 - Mar 11
Both goals against came from midfield or wide defender errors - often in combination not from central defence

kevleykeegle added 18:36 - Mar 11
JoeEgg - old tippy tappy joe - you’re a glass half empty man I’d guess. Martin’s stats
Played 41 won 24 drawn 8 lost 9. Shocking! Kick him out hey.

saintsfanbrock added 20:48 - Mar 11
@saintnick almost a tenth of his total senior games have been in the position. As you have pointed out two of the games were for Man City, I don’t think Man City (while THB has been old enough to talk) have needed to have someone “fill in when needed”

Boris1977 added 08:47 - Mar 12
Massive fan of JS and he's a ball player but he's not a CB. A sweeper would suit him more but can't imagine little pep would consider that role. As others have said the absence of Downes has been the main issue over the past month and of course Pep-Martins risky dogmatic playing style.

Playing Bednarek and JS together doubles the chances of mistakes being made in an unforgiving position on the pitch. Plus breaking up a settled CB partnership is simply foolish with a dose of arrogance thrown in.


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