JACK Stephens looks back on his time with the Sky Blues with fond memories and believes his grounding under Tony Mowbray at the Ricoh Arena will stand him in good stead at Premier League side Southampton next season.
The central defender joined the Sky Blues on loan at the beginning of February and quickly established himself as a regular start under Mowbray.
A lack of goals was a problem at the other end of the field as Mowbray’s side fell short of the League One play-offs, but in defence Stephens helped keep six clean sheets on 16 League One appearances.
It followed a short term loan move at then Championship side Middlesborugh where he was limited to just a handful of appearances and it was his experience at the Ricoh which Stephens feels can help him push for a starting spot for the Saints next season.
“Both were equally valuable for me in terms of experience,” said the 22-year-old, who represented England Under-21s at the Toulon Tournament last month.
“I was at Middlesbrough who’ve had a brilliant season with a really strong squad and they got promotion.
“It was a good place for me to learn and I don’t regret being there or going there because you’re going to have times as a footballer where you have to make the most out of the opportunity.
“I definitely learned a lot while I was there, but it was definitely the right decision to cut the loan short and go out to get some games which I did at Coventry.
“I loved Coventry, it was brilliant. Tony Mowbray was fantastic for me with him having been a defender as well, he really helped my game and gave me plenty of confidence to go and enjoy my football.
“I definitely found my love of the game again while I was at Coventry which was the main thing.
“The most important thing as a footballer is playing, and if you’re not playing then you don’t tend to be enjoying it as much as when you’re out of it. It’s nice to be playing and I’ve got plenty of games under my belt now at that level so hopefully that stands me in good stead for when I come back in pre-season and I can push on now to the next level.”
The imminent departure of Ronald Keoman to Everton has left Stephens’ future at St Mary’s uncertain.
He has made just one first team appearance for Southampton but spells with the Sky Blues, Middlesborough and a loan move to Swindon Town last season has seen the versatile defender rack up 50 league appearances.
“This past season has probably been the biggest learning curve of my career so far and I can take that into next season and hopefully show the manager here at Saints that I’m ready to be trusted in his team,” Stephens added.
“I’m going to have a week or two of rest and then get myself ready for pre-season where hopefully I can show the manager that I’m ready and have a good start to the season.
“The higher the level Southampton plays at the better it is for me because the players we’ve got in the first team at the moment are top class players and really good to learn from. I think every player in the squad is an international so that’s invaluable to learn off and I’ve just got to make the most of that.”