Manager Russell Martin faces the challenge of resisting the temptation to rush Jack Stephens back into the squad, acknowledging that the 29-year-old center-back, who recently resumed training after a 12-week injury layoff, is eager to contribute.
Martin emphasized the significance of Stephens’ potential return, stating that if it were up to the player, he would have already played in the last match and be ready for the upcoming one. The manager praised Stephens’ commitment, highlighting how much the team has missed him during his absence.
Despite the solid performances of Mason Holgate, Taylor Harwood-Bellis, and Janny Bednarek in Stephens’ absence, Martin acknowledged the substantial impact of Stephens’ absence, pointing out that the team wouldn’t have suffered three consecutive losses if he had been on the field.
Martin views the challenging period without Stephens as beneficial in the long run, fostering team cohesion.
Stephens’ return to training has elevated the intensity and focus within the squad, with Martin noting the positive influence the experienced center-back brings both verbally and non-verbally.
However, Martin emphasized that Stephens will need to compete for a starting spot against Harwood-Bellis and Bednarek, who have formed a solid partnership in the absence of the Southampton captain.
While Martin praised Stephens as a top-tier player, he stressed the importance of managing his own temptation to reintegrate him too quickly into the starting lineup.
The manager expressed confidence in Stephens’ abilities and highlighted the collaborative effort between coaching staff, sports science, and medical teams to determine the right time for his return.
Martin anticipates that Stephens will face a challenge in earning back his spot but believes in the player’s determination and character. The manager emphasized the need for patience, expressing hope that in the coming week, there will be positive developments in Stephens’ readiness to rejoin the squad.
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Ultimately, Martin envisions Stephens contributing significantly once he returns to the pitch, acknowledging the player’s resilience and commitment to securing a permanent place in the team.