Jack Stephens ready to face competition with England U21s

Monday 31 Aug 2015
Jack Stephens was a regular for England U20s last season
Competition is something that Jack Stephens is relishing as he looks to establish himself in both England Under-21s’ and Middlesbrough’s backline.

The 21-year-old received his first call-up to Gareth Southgate’s squad last week and his new international boss was in the stands to watch him later that evening as he helped Boro to a 2-1 win at Burton Albion in the League Cup.

Stephens joined the Teessiders on loan from Southampton this summer after impressing for his country at U20s level in the Toulon Tournament at the end of the last campaign.

England v USA

International Friendly Match
7.45pm, Thursday 3 September 2015
Deepdale, Preston North End FC
Live on BT Sport
Tickets: £10 adults, £5 children
Call 0844 856 1966 or e-mail ticketoffice@pne.com

"Breaking into the U21s squad was definitely a target for me this season," Stephens told TheFA.com. 

"I was in the U20s squad in March for the friendlies against Mexico and USA and followed that up by going to the Toulon Tournament in May. That was a really good trip which I learned a lot from and enjoyed, and I wanted to push on from there. 

"It’s a massive thing for me and it was one of my aims after the summer."

So far, Stephens has been restricted to appearances in the cup for his new club, but he believes competing with the likes of former U21s star Ben Gibson and Daniel Ayala for a spot at centre-back is exactly the test he requires this campaign after his spell in League One with Swindon Town last season.

"This is why I came to this club – there’s strong competition for places," he added. "Not just in defence, within the whole squad, and that’s the challenge I needed.

"I’ve got to be patient and when opportunities come along I have to take them. Hopefully I can do that do and deliver."

And it is not only in defence where Stephens can make a difference. He hopes his versatility can help him cement a spot in the starting eleven at both domestic and international level.

"I’ve played as a central defender for the majority of my short career but I can also fill in at right-back and, as I did on Tuesday, play in midfield too. 

Jack Stephens in action for Southampton during pre-season 2015.

Jack Stephens in action for Southampton during their pre-season tour of the Netherlands in 2015

"I played there quite a bit last year for Swindon so it’s not really a new position for me, but it’s one I enjoy," he explained.

Stephens arrived at St. George’s Park on Sunday evening to meet up with the U21s ahead of their friendly match against USA in Preston on Thursday and the first Euro Qualifier in Norway next Monday.

And he joins up with the squad in determined spirit as the road to the Euro Finals in Poland 2017 begin.

"I want to go there with a really positive mindset and show Gareth and the other coaches what I can do," he added.

"If that means playing in midfield or at the back, it does not make a difference to me, I just want to show what I can do.

"I have a couple of personal targets, but I want to keep them to myself.

"I’m just delighted to be called up and I’m really looking forward to meeting up with the rest of the lads and getting to work."

Tickets for the game at Deepdale are priced at just £10 for adults and £5 for children, with a family ticket (two adults and two children) costing £20 and group bookings of 15+ working out at £5 for adults and £1 for children.

Season ticket holders at Deepdale can also claim half price tickets and concessions for U18s, over 65s and students (on production of valid ID) are £5. Call 0844 856 1966 for details or e-mail: ticketoffice@pne.com

By Gary Stonehouse Staff Writer