Southamp­ton resume Cham­pi­onship action after the inter­na­tion­al break, as they pre­pare to host play-off hope­fuls Mid­dles­brough.

Rus­sell Martin‘s side had to watch Leeds Unit­ed and Ipswich Town in action last week­end, with both secur­ing vic­to­ry.

It left Saints nine points adrift of Leeds and eight from Ipswich, albeit with two games in hand on their auto­mat­ic pro­mo­tion rivals.

So it leaves lit­tle room to slip up in any of the remain­ing 10 games if they are to realise their aspi­ra­tions of mak­ing an instant return to the Pre­mier League.

They’ve had to con­tend with key injuries of late, name­ly Kyle Walk­er-Peters, but he is expect­ed to be avail­able for the Boro clash, hav­ing been pic­tured in train­ing.

Russell Martin faces selection dilemma

Norwich City v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship
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Walk­er-Peters has missed the last two Cham­pi­onship fix­tures, both of which have result­ed in wins for Southamp­ton.

That has coin­cid­ed with Jack Stephens’ run in the side and Mar­tin has pre­vi­ous­ly placed on record that “at the moment, this team needs Jack in it.”

The 30-year-old has cap­tained the South Coaters this term and his recent inclu­sion has cer­tain­ly helped the team recov­er from the blip they endured in Feb­ru­ary.

With that said, it leaves the for­mer Swansea City boss with a selec­tion dilem­ma, as he deter­mines who to drop to allow Walk­er-Peters to return to the eleven.

Giv­en his tal­ent, the for­mer Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur defend­er is almost guar­an­teed to regain his place but the dif­fi­cul­ty is who will it be at the expense of.

Stephens appears the most like­ly to be axed giv­en Tay­lor Har­wood-Bel­lis has start­ed 30 league games and Ryan Man­ning is the nat­ur­al left-back.

Jack Stephens will still be influential

Whilst Stephens may find him­self among the sub­sti­tutes bench head­ing into the busi­ness end of the cam­paign, the expe­ri­enced defend­er will still have an impor­tant role to play.

Indeed, com­ing off the bench to sure up games will cer­tain­ly be use­ful for Mar­tin, but it’s his lead­er­ship that will be most valu­able.

Southamp­ton have a young squad and with the pres­sure ramp­ing up, they need expe­ri­enced heads in the dress­ing room.

Mar­tin field­ed a start­ing line-up with an aver­age age of 23 ear­li­er in the sea­son, which isn’t far from being the club’s youngest-ever XI (22), as per Trans­fer­markt.

So it’s evi­dent that Stephens will be one of the most influ­en­tial play­ers head­ing into the final stretch, with auto­mat­ic pro­mo­tion very much on the agen­da.

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