MANAGER Russell Martin has admitted he will have to “resist his own temptation” to bring Jack Stevens back into the squad before he is ready.
Stevens returned to training with Southampton last week after a 12-week layoff following an injury suffered against QPR.
The central defender is far from ready for regular football and continues to improve his condition in training.
When asked by the Daily Echo how close the Saints captain was to returning to the first team, Martin explained what his return would mean for the team.
He said: “If Jack had his way, he would have played on Saturday and tomorrow night.
“He’s so desperate to get involved and help the team and that’s what I like about him. I don’t think you can underestimate how much he was missed.”
“We were lucky to have three players who performed well: Mason (Holgate), Taylor (Harwood-Bellis) and Jenny (Bednarek).
“Jenny and Taylor developed a relationship over time. Jack was a big loss, if he had played we wouldn’t have lost three games in a row.
“However, I think this time will be good for us in the long run if we all get through this together.”
Martin noted that Stevens’ return to the field raised the noise level within the group and increased the intensity of training.
“Even a week later, when he returned to training, I was impressed by the level of detail in his game and how he helped his teammates.”
“If you don’t fully understand what he does, you would if you played with him. You may even have noticed some nonverbal actions he makes using his body language on the ball.
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Despite Martin’s rave reviews, Stevens will still have to compete for the starting spot with the aforementioned Harwood-Bellis and Bednarek.
The duo started eight of the thirteen games Stevens missed due to injury. However, Martin noted that the 29-year-old is up for the challenge.
“He is a top football player. I knew he was good, but he’s better than I thought. I missed him, as you probably noticed, and I think the team missed him.
“For me, it’s about dealing with my own temptation to bring him too quickly and his desperation to get him back as soon as possible. We need to listen to sports science and medical teams.
“It’s a collaboration, everyone is together. We all want the same thing, and that is for Jack to be on the field and help us. We just need to be a little more patient.
“Hopefully I’ll give you a different answer next week and he’ll try to get into the squad.
“I think he knows it’s not easy, but because he knows Jack and his character, he’ll commit to it and stay there if he comes into the team.”
Author: George Rees-Julian
Source: Daily Echo