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Russell Martin Should Not Face Selection Dilemma as Walker Peters Returns
Wednesday, 20th Mar 2024 09:01

Southampton fans will have been heartened this week after seeing pictures of Kyle Walker Peters back in full training with the Saints squad with 10 days still remaining before the next game, but Russell Martin should not have any tricky decisions to make.

Independent football website Southampton FC News have suggested that Saints manager Russell Martin will be facing a dilemma when his team take on Middlesbrough at St Mary's on Good Friday.

After pictures of Kyle Walker Peters training back with the squad at Staplewood, they open the debate about whether KWP will be straight back in the squad and perhaps to the point who would he replace.

Walker Peters has missed the last two Championship games, but both have been won, however Saints supporters were not impressed with the way that against both Birmingham & Sunderland at times the Saints defence was in disarray and 5 goals were shipped in just those two games.

Most Southampton fans I have spoken to or indeed read on social media feel that they know the reason why and that is the re shuffling that happened at the back, Martin is quoted as having said " at the moment, this team needs Jack in it.”

Whilst no one would perhaps argue too much with his logic, the stark truth was that it didn't need Jack in it at the expense of breaking up the partnership between Taylor Harwood Bellis & Jan Bednarek.

That had been the foundation on which our unbeaten run was built, with Walker Peters alongside them for the 22 League games that they remained undefeated in the Championship, we had the best defence in the division.

Of course we hit a rocky patch, but we should have played through them, instead Russell Martin seemed to have an obsession with playing Jack Stephens.

No one would have argued about Stephens slotting in at right back as a replacement for KWP during his spell injured, but putting him at right back and moving Harwood-Bellis to right back was not only a strange move but unnecessary.

Bizarrely it has done Jack no favours, although he did not play that badly from an individual basis, the truth was that at times in the last two wins, we have been at sixes & sevens.

The leadership qualities that Martin has continually praised Jack for where not on display and it was pertinent that after Sunderland had scored their equaliser at St Mary's, just the moment when surely you need you Captain to be at the help, he hooked him off.

Than suggests that surely the manager had seen the error of his ways and with Kyle Walker Peters now seemingly ready to return and with at least 10 days of being back in the squad behind him, there cannot really be a reason not to return him to his place at right back.

So I can see no dilemma for Russell Martin, he needs to show that he recognises the foundations our good run was built on and that means Harwood-Bellis & Bednarek in the centre and KWP at right back.

It does not mean shoehorning a favourite into a position that he has not earned on merit.

The manager as mentioned seems to think that the squad needs Jack's leadership qualities, but does it need it on the field as much as he feel ?

Whilst I agree that it lacks a natural leader of men and I would say at this point Jack has shown no more evidence of this on the pitch than the rest of his team mates, it should have enough experience to get itself through and as I said the foundations were built at the back.

Indeed Jack does not have anymore experience than the rest of his team mates, at 30 years old and having been at the club for 13 years, he has amassed just 119 League starts for Saints and another 18 off the bench.

Away from the club he has around 80 appearances to add to his total, mostly in League One.

Contrast that with the record's of the rest of the defence, in his 4 1/2 seasons at St Mary's KWP has started 130 games in the League, Jan Bednarek in 6 1/2 years at the club has started 182 games, Taylor Harwood Bellis having only just turned 22, has 112 League starts to his name.

Even Ryan Manning at age 27 has started 200 League games in his career plus another 35 off the bench, James Bree just 6 months younger has 199 League starts and 34 as sub.

Southampton FC News claim that a young Saints side need Jack's experience, but it seems is not the case in the back four and even in the rest of the team there is experience, Will Smallbone of the usual starters at 24 has only 75 League starts to his name, a year older Flynn Downes with 142 starts and 44 off the bench could not be described as inexperienced, Stuart Armstrong in 6 years at St Mary's has started 125 games plus 60 off the bench and including these has over 400 games to his name in his career.

Add to that Loanee's Joe Rothwell with 265 League games to his name and Ryan Fraser despite spending a long time being cold shouldered at Newcastle has still well over 300 League games to his name.

This Saints side may have a lot of youth in it, indeed Martin fielded a side with an average age of 23 earlier in the season, that is far from being the youngest starting XI for the club but in the usual starting XI it usually has plenty of experience,

So does this side need Jack for his leadership ? I would say no, at times it needs him on merit and that should be when he plays, not because of some unseen, to the fans at least qualities.

Russell Martin has owned up to the fact that he has made mistakes this season, he has said that he has learned from them, his achilles heel though seems to be his faith in Jack, promotion for Southampton may well depend on whether the manager can be harsh with himself in the final weeks of the season and see this as a mistake he has learned from or whether he will perhaps be obstinate and want to show that he is in charge,

Photo: Action Images

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Number_58 added 09:25 - Mar 20
Not sure if we really need another article about Jack Stephens. Nick made it abundantly clear several years ago that he doesn't rate him. It's almost like every manager we've had recently only plays Stephens to wind Nick up. And it's clearly working.

saintmark1976 added 09:37 - Mar 20
For goodness sake Nick please change the record.

We are not on the cusp of missing automatic promotion because of the efforts of Jack Stephens.

I appreciate that we are in the middle of a three week period without a game but honestly can’t you find anything more constructive to post ? If the answer is “ no “ then perhaps it would be better not to post anything ?

Bridders2 added 10:33 - Mar 20
Well done Nick. Let's hope RM reads this occasionally and gets the message. If not keep it going, tinkering with Jack Stephens in the team has disrupted a settled defence. We can't afford to have a weakened defence in the run in.

highfield49 added 11:55 - Mar 20
Most managers would opt to pick their best available back four and, subsequently, not disrupt that selection other than for reasons of injury or suspension. I'd be surprised if there are any supporters who believe that Jack would, initially, be one of those chosen four players.

ElSanto added 12:06 - Mar 20
Agree with Nick. Play the strongest back four and the one that performed so well on our run.

JoeEgg added 12:59 - Mar 20
"That suggests that surely the manager had seen the error of his ways"

I think this is highly unlikely to be the case! We have thrown away our chance of automatic promotion by messing up against Millwall and Hull. Martin will continue to do things HIS way. If we dont get promotion Harwood-Bellis will be gone anyway and Jack will be back as first choice CB.
I think we nearly all agree that we have a Squad close to being worthy of a return to the Premier League. But we have Championship Manager - apparently championed by our friends at Southampton FC News. Whatever happens we have had an exciting and successful season - in my opinion thats DESPITE the fiddling of Russell Martin. And he isn't going to change.

Farlow added 16:55 - Mar 20
our biggest weaknesses at the back are Ryan Manning and the Keeper

saintmark1976 added 17:13 - Mar 20
Spot on JoeEgg.

The Hull and Millwall results absolutely killed us, not Jack Stephens.

Both were self inflicted wounds. The first caused by Martins ridiculous decision to play a light weight forward line of Mara, Armstrong and Edosie. The second by our keeper’s decision to leave his line to try and catch a ball he should have at best punched.

One win and a draw would have done us. Even a couple of draws would have kept us in contention.

sandywelsh added 21:49 - Mar 21
Jack Stephens has been one of the worst defenders ever to wear a saints shirt and the sooner he is gone the better!!!!

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