This article is part of Football League World’s ‘The Verdict’ series, which provides personal opinions from the FLW writers regarding the latest breaking news, teams, players, managers, potential signings and more
Middlesbrough are reportedly interested in signing Oxford United goalkeeper Jack Stevens.
According to The Sun on Sunday (04/04, page 61), Boro could make a move for the 23-year-old, with Marcus Bettinelli’s loan deal set to come to an end.
Stevens – who has just signed a new long-term deal at the Kassam Stadium – has made 25 League One appearances this season, conceding only 23 goals and keeping 11 clean sheets.
He has been battling it out with Simon Eastwood for a place in the side, but looks set to be a big part of their long-term plans having signed a new contract last month.
Here, we discuss Boro’s reported interest in the goalkeeper…
I can’t profess to watching too much of Oxford this season, but Stevens seems highly-rated and he usurped the experienced Simon Eastwood from between the sticks earlier this season and never looked back.
Stevens has kept 11 clean sheets in League One this season, so he must have something about him as well as a decent defence in-front of him, and at this point Middlesbrough fans are probably just wanting something different in terms of a goalkeeper.
Marcus Bettinelli hasn’t done it for them on loan from Fulham and due to his performances it’s highly unlikely that he will be returning to Teesside next season, so it may not be the worst thing to take a punt on Stevens.
The 23-year-old would command a fee though – he’s tied down to Oxford until 2024 so they won’t let go of him that easily and it will all depend if Neil Warnock has the funds to spend in the summer.
This is a move that would not get a lot of pulses racing amongst supporters, but Middlesbrough might be in need of adding to their goalkeeping options in the summer and Jack Stevens looks like a potentially ideal fit for Boro. Having a strong number one and also good backup options is crucial for any side that want to earn promotion so it can not hurt to have a few quality options.
Stevens has been enjoying an impressive campaign with Oxford on the face of it with him conceding under a goal per game and also keeping 11 clean sheets so far in League One. That shows that the keeper can pull of important saves and also be a calming influence to his defence, which are qualities that Boro could benefit from next term if he arrives.
The 23-year-old is a good age for him to be brought in and developed further and has shown signs of maturing into a very good all-round goalkeeper this campaign with Oxford. From a financial perspective then this looks like a reasonably solid proposition for the club to invest in a young and upcoming keeper with potential to improve.
Whether Stevens would be ready to come straight into their starting line-up next season in the Championship remains to be seen though. However, if he can be got on decent wages then it is a signing that would make sense in the summer.
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Yes, it’s certainly a position they need to address.
Warnock recognised that in the summer, which is why he went out to get Bettinelli, but the truth is that the on-loan Fulham man hasn’t always convinced, so it would be no surprise if he didn’t come back next season. Plus, the Cottagers may not want to let him go if they’re relegated.
Therefore, a keeper has to be on Boro’s radar, and Stevens would be a smart capture. He has shown is a capable stopper this season, and at 23, his best years should be in front of him. He really could make the position his own for the next decade and beyond. It would be a slightly risky move in that it’s a step up for Stevens, but he does seem to have the character and temperament to be able to deal with that.
This is such an important position that Warnock needs to be sure he is getting the right man, and if Stevens is the one he wants the club need to do all they can to seal the deal.