JACK Stephens believes the options within the Saints squad will keep him and his team-mates on their “toes” this season.

The 24-year-old faces stiff competition for a starting place at centre-back at St Mary’s and believes there are strong options throughout Mark Hughes’ squad in every position.

Stephens points to the impact of Danny Ings, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Manolo Gabbiadini from the bench in Saints’ opening day draw against Burnley as evidence of that.

He said: “It’s important this year that we’ve got a strong, competitive squad.

“I think the lads showed that, coming off the bench that everyone wants to play and everyone’s fighting for a chance to play and when we get that opportunity it’s important that we take it.

“I think the lads who came on for us definitely had that impact for us and it was a little bit unlucky that we didn’t get the win.”

Saints shipped out Guido Carrillo, Sofiane Boufal and Jordy Clasie on loan this summer – as well as selling Dusan Tadic to Ajax in a £15m deal.

But they brought in Stuart Armstrong, Mohamed Elyounoussi, Jannik Vestergaard, Angus Gunn and Ings in during the transfer window to bolster Hughes’ options.

With competition for places high, Stephens is pleased just to be getting game time, having started at centre-back before moving to right-back against the Clarets.

“There’s competition right the way through the squad, everyone’s kept on their toes and there’s someone ready to take their place if we’re not up to 100 per cent,” he said.

“It’s was two positions for me today but I’m just happy if I’m on the pitch. It was great for me to be involved and hopefully I can keep my place and kick on.”

Saints head to big-spenders Everton in their second Premier League game of 2018/19 on Saturday.

Stephens is keen to avoid the mistakes of last term, when Saints were dragged into a relegation battle after a slow start to the campaign.

This time around, Stephens wants to take advantage of a fairly favourable opening run of games, with Everton, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Brighton to come before they play Liverpool on September 22.

“We’ve spoken about the importance of the start of the season and we know that we’ve got to start well and try and get some results early on because that will give us the momentum to carry on throughout the season,” he said.

“Last season we started slow and ended up carrying that throughout the whole season. We were disappointed with that, so it’s important we really knuckle down and make sure we get a good start.”