MARK Cooper has insisted Jack Stephens won’t automatically become the linchpin of his defence, even if he does finally complete his loan return to the Country Ground.

The Southampton youngster impressed during his first loan spell at the end of the last campaign, with a season-long switch possible this summer as Cooper rebuilds his backline.

Many see Stephens as potentially the key member of Cooper’s three-man defence, but the Town boss insisted the likes of Josh Lelan, Jordan Turnbull and Raffa Branco are just as important to the functionality of the team.

While Cooper did admit Stephens is almost certain to play if the move is completed this week, he doesn’t necessarily see the 20-year-old as a direct replacement for Ward in terms of the organisational qualities the veteran brought to Town’s young defence last season.

“If the prospective new signings arrive we’ll have the decision to make over whether or not to play them or try and bed them in carefully,” he said.

“But I think you know though, if Jack comes he’s going to play.

“Jack can play anywhere but the thing with Jack is he’s really calm on the ball and is a good footballer, so we have lots of work whichever three it is and we need to get a bit more shape to it this week.

“He’s not necessarily (filling the hole left by Ward), they have to do that as a unit and they have to be so well drilled it becomes second nature to them.”

Cooper admitted there has not been any interest in either Ward or Ryan Harley, with the duo given permission to talk to other clubs, but there is still no prospect of them being involved in the first team at this time.

“They’re still training and the attitude’s good, but no (they won’t be involved) at the moment,” he said.