Stephens perhaps in line for an increased role

The young Southampton centre-back is good enough for the Saints first-team, says England Under-21 manager Aidy Boothroyd.

Stephens perhaps in line for an increased role
Stephens' late winner has boosted his chances of breaking into the Southampton first-team. Photo: Getty.

Jack Stephens is ready to make the step up to the senior Southampton squad, according to England under-21 interim manager Aidy Boothroyd.

The Saints centre-back raised his profile dramatically last night, scoring a last gasp winner for Boothroyd's side against Italy under-21s at none other than his home ground St Mary's.

A fairy tale finish

Despite coming from a goal down, England Under-21s would have felt that a 2-2 draw at home to their Italian counterparts was an opportunity missed and less than they deserved for their efforts on the South Coast last night. Nevertheless, with just seconds to play, it looked like the Young Lions would have to settle for a stalemate. Matching the talented Azzurrini wasn't a bad result, but equally not a brilliant one.

As the clock ticked into the last minute of injury time, the hosts were presented with one final opportunity in a corner. What followed was surely the greatest moment of Jack Stephens' short career. Fellow Saint James Ward-Prowse whipped in a wicked delivery onto the head of another player who wasn't unfamiliar with the surroundings of St Mary's, ex-Southampton man Calum Chambers. When the now Middlesbrough defender's effort was parried, Stephens reacted the quickest, prodding the ball home from close range to give his country a very late lead.

Stephens' touch turned out to be the last kick of the game, giving his country a statement-making win at his home stadium. However, the 22-year-old's winner has been significant on an individual level also, with many on the South Coast suddenly taking notice.

Stephens celebrates his winner after the game. Photo: Getty.
Stephens celebrates his winner after the game. Photo: Getty.

Ready for the next level?

Following Stephens' memorable moment, England Under-21 boss Aidy Boothroyd believes the youngster's efforts should be rewarded with an increased role at his club, stating that he hopes Stephens "catches the eye" of Southampton manager Claude Puel

Boothroyd is hopeful that Stephens' performance can get him "more starts" for the Saints (he has featured just once this season), but the ex-Watford and Coventry boss acknowledged that the defender "has some good competition on front of him". Southampton have been very solid defensively this campaign, recently going on a run of six consecutive clean sheets. 

Despite this, if the words of Boothroyd have some truth in them, the sky is the limit for Stephens.

Manager Aidy Boothroyd was full of praise for Stephens. Photo: Getty.
Manager Aidy Boothroyd was full of praise for Stephens. Photo: Getty.

Where will he fit in?

If there is one team that would welcome additions to their squad with open arms, then it is undoubtedly Southampton. Puel's men are currently fighting on three fronts; the EFL Cup, the Europa League and of course the Premier League. As well regular fixture pile-ups, injuries have not been kind to the Saints, with crucial players such as Shane Long and Ryan Bertrand already spending lengthy periods on the side-lines. 

With Southampton playing so many games and having such a thin squad, Stephens has every chance of a rise in playing time as the season goes on. His ability to play anywhere across the back four could be invaluable to his side, and he will no doubt be encouraged by the emergence of young left-back Sam McQueen at St Mary's this season.

It wasn't too long ago that Stephens was playing League 1 football for Coventry City but, with all things considered, he could become a Southampton regular in the very near future.