July 16, 2024

Southampton fans would have been thrilled this week to see photographs of Kyle Walker Peters back in full training with the Saints team with only 10 days until the next game, but Russell Martin should not face any difficult decisions.

Southampton FC News, an independent football website, has indicated that Saints manager Russell Martin may face a choice when his club faces Middlesbrough at St Mary’s on Good Friday.

After seeing images of Kyle Walker Peters working with the squad at Staplewood, there is speculation regarding whether KWP will return to the squad immediately and, if so, who he will replace.

Walker Peters has missed the last two Championship games, but both have been won; however, Saints fans were dissatisfied with how the Saints defence was at moments in disarray against Birmingham and Sunderland, allowing 5 goals in those two games.

Most Southampton fans I’ve spoken to or read on social media believe they know why, which is the reshuffling at the back. Martin is cited as saying, “At the moment, this team needs Jack in it.”

While no one would dispute with his rationale, the simple truth was that it didn’t need Jack in it if it meant breaking up Taylor Harwood Bellis and Jan Bednarek’s collaboration.

That was the foundation on which our unbeaten streak was formed; with Walker Peters behind them for the 22 League games in which they went undefeated in the Championship, we had the greatest defense in the division.

Of course, we encountered some difficulties, but we should have persevered; instead, Russell Martin appeared to be obsessed with playing Jack Stephens.

Nobody would have disputed with Stephens replacing KWP at right back during his injury, but putting him there and moving Harwood-Bellis to right back was not only unusual, but also needless.

Surprisingly, it has done Jack no favors; while he did not play particularly poorly on an individual basis, the truth was that we were at sixes and sevens at times throughout the last two victories.

The leadership skills that Martin has repeatedly complimented Jack for were not on display, and it was significant that after Sunderland got their equaliser at St Mary’s, just when you needed your Captain to help, he hooked him off.

Than implies that the manager had clearly recognized the folly of his ways, and with Kyle Walker Peters now appearing to be ready to return and at least 10 days of being back in the squad behind him, there can’t be a good excuse not to return him to his right back position.

So I don’t see any dilemma for Russell Martin; he needs to demonstrate that he understands the foundations on which our successful run was built, which means Harwood-Bellis and Bednarek in the centre and KWP at right back.

It does not imply forcing a favourite into a position he has not achieved on merit.

As previously said, the manager appears to believe that the squad requires Jack’s leadership abilities, but does it need them on the field as much as he does?

While I agree that it lacks a natural leader of men, and at this point, Jack has showed no more indication of this on the pitch than the rest of his teammates, it should have enough experience to get through, and as I previously stated, the foundations have been laid at the back.

Indeed, Jack has less experience than the rest of his teammates; at 30 years old and 13 years with the club, he has only 119 League starts for Saints, with another 18 coming off the bench.

Away from the club, he has made approximately 80 appearances, the most of which have been in League One.

In comparison, the rest of the defense has started 130 League games in his 4 1/2 seasons at St Mary’s KWP, Jan Bednarek has started 182 games in his 6 1/2 years at the club, and Taylor Harwood Bellis, who is only 22 years old, has 112 League starts.

Even Ryan Manning, at the age of 27, has started 200 League games and played 35 more off the bench, while James Bree, only 6 months younger, has 199 League starts and 34 as a substitute.

Southampton FC News claims that a young Saints side needs Jack’s experience, but it appears that 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 Joe Rothwell, who has 265 League games under his belt, and Ryan Fraser, who, despite being cold-shouldered at Newcastle for a long time, has well over 300 League games to his name.


Kyle Walker-Peters - Player profile 23/24 | Transfermarkt


This Saints side may have a lot of youth in it, and 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 the ordinary starting XI usually has plenty of experience.

So, does this side require Jack’s leadership? I would say no; at times, he is needed on merit, and that should be when he plays, not because of some unknown, to the public, attributes.

Russell Martin has admitted to making mistakes this season and has stated that he has learned from them; however, his Achilles heel appears to be his faith in Jack; Southampton’s promotion 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 be obstinate and want to show that he is in charge.





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