SAINTS boss Mauricio Pellegrino believes Jack Stephens’ love of the game has been a key factor in his success.

The 24 year-old defender’s three goals in three games have extended Saints’ unbeaten run to six matches.

It has been the perfect response to Virgil van Dijk’s exit ahead of Liverpool’s visit to St Mary’s this Sunday.

Pellegrino believes Stephens’ passion has helped him make the most of his talent.

He said: “Jack’s a natural, obviously.

“The passion is really important but to work every single day in training and you need passion to react well in difficult situations.

“Without the passion and character it is difficult to play at this level.”

There has been no shortage of passion in Stephens’ goal celebrations.

No wonder when they have helped Saints progress to the FA Cup fifth round as well as securing four vital Premier League points.

But it is a trait Pellegrino also sees regularly in training.

“To celebrate goals is the easier part of football, when everyone comes to you to celebrate,” he explained.

“We are very happy because those goals aren’t just important for him but for everyone and hopefully he can continue with these performances.”

Stephens’ partnership with Wesley Hoedt is also improving.

“Yes, he’s young and there was a lot of competition with Virgil, Maya [Yoshida], Jan [Bednarek] and Wesley,” added Pellegrino.

“All of them have shown they can play.”

As if it emphasise Pellegrino’s point, Stephens spoke with passion after the win at the Hawthorns.

He said: “There’s no point getting a big three points then going on losing or drawing.

“We need to use this to push on and get out of the position we’re in.

“It’s down to us that we’re in it and it’s only us who can get us out of it.”