TEENAGER Ben Stevenson has been one of very few positives in an otherwise forgettable season so far for the Sky Blues.
The 19-year-old is the latest player to graduate through the club’s academy and is now stamping his mark in the first team. In the second of a two-part interview with Observer sports editor Steve Carpenter, the City youngster reveals the impact that Tony Mowbray had on his career, the emotions of making his first team debut and what lies ahead in the future.
HAVING watched close friends and academy team-mates James Maddison, George Thomas, Cian Harries and Dion Kelly-Evans make their first team bow last season, you could forgive Ben Stevenson for expecting to be the next one in line.
Having produced consistently at under-18 and under-21 level, Stevenson was hoping to be given his first team bow last season. He certainly felt he was ready but it was not to be and the young midfielder was made to wait by former manager Tony Mowbray.
“Last season probably didn’t got the way I wanted it to,” said Stevenson. “I thought I could have made an impact last season, that’s what every young player wants to do.
“I had a meeting with Tony Mowbray at the end of last season and he told me that he was quite impressed with my performances for the Under-21s.
“He said to come back in the best shape possible and hit the ground running. I got a pre-season under my belt and with Romain Vincelot leaving too I knew I just had to take my chance.”
That chance came in the second match of the season when the Sky Blues hosted Portsmouth in the EFL Cup.
It was a moment Stevenson admits he will never forget and he was thankful that his Academy team mates were sharing the same pitch to help him overcome any nerves.
“The Portsmouth game was probably a good time for me because the first game of the season against Swindon was the Saturday before so there wasn’t that much recovery time for the players. That gave the manager a chance to give others players a chance and thankfully I got my chance that game.
“Mowbray told me before the game to just play my game, just forget about everything else and get my first couple of passes in and try and adapt to the pace as quickly as I can.
“I think that was one of the big things, the pace of the game compared to the level I was used to in the under-18s and under-21s.
“That was the main thing, just try and do things quickly, get things flowing and start start playing my normal game.
“Cian (Harries) was playing in that game as well as George (Thomas) and ‘Haynesy’ (Ryan Haynes) too so you look across and you know that we’ve all got each other’s backs.
“You know how they’re going to play and what they want from me and I know what I expect from them. It helps when you know the players around you because it makes you feel more confident.
“I felt so proud making my home debut too especially because a lot of my family were there. I was looking over towards them before the start of the game. I wanted to put in a good performance for them and that kept me going.
“Once you play a few passes your confidence goes up and that’s when I started playing my normal game. Then I tried more complicated stuff and tried to affect the game more.
“Confidence is quite a big thing for me. When I’m playing with confidence I feel as though I can play much better so I try me best to keep that up all the time.”
Stevenson enjoyed playing for Mowbray – a manager with a reputation of improving young footballers – so he was as disappointed as anyone to see him go after failing to find a league win in the opening ten matches.
“We were all disappointed when Mowbray left. We all felt quite emotional when he told us that he was leaving because we felt as though we let him down.
“It was a reality check for us because we know our performance levels need to be a lot higher and we needed to start winning games.
“I’d say Mowbray was my first real manager because I wasn’t really involved much under Steven Pressley because I was still young back then.
“Mowbray would always talk to you and give you advice because he’s played at a good level. He just seemed to know so much about football and his knowledge helped us out.
“He had a big impact on my career because he’s the one who gave me my debut so I’ve got a lot to thank him for.
“Richard Stevens the Academy Manager was really helpful when he came. There were a few low times as I was coming through the age groups but he always picked me up and helped me move forward.”
Not many would have quite anticipated the impact that Stevenson would have in such a short space of time.
The City graduate has scored two wonder goals in 21 appearances already this season and even Stevenson admits he is a little taken back at how well things have gone on a personal level.
“At this stage in the season I am surprised at how many games I have played.
“Mowbray told me that I could play 20 games this season and we’re not even half-way through and I’ve already hit 21 so I’ve just got to try and keep it going.
“The Oxford game is probably the best game I’ve played so far. Scoring the goal and getting man-of-the-match, that was the perfect game for me really at home and we won so I couldn’t have asked for much more.
“The manager had said that we hadn’t been scoring enough goals and everyone needs to chip in.
“I didn’t really have much time to think about it. I just got the ball out of my feet and I just hit it. I don’t know why really because it all happened so quickly.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hit a ball sweeter than that – it’s probably one of the best goals I’ve ever scored. To score that as my first goal was very special.
“When you score your first goal you always think about what celebration you’re going to do and you always plan it.
“When it actually happened I didn’t really know what to do. My first reaction was to go over to my family in the crowd which was quite emotional really – it was the best feeling in the world.”
Just like his close friend Maddison last season, there will no doubt already be scouts keeping a watchful eye on Stevenson’s performances, but for now all he is interested in is continuing his excellent development at the club that gave him his first big break.
He added with a cool shrug: “Every player wants to play at the highest level they can and challenge themselves but right now all I’m bothered about is playing games and trying to help this club move forward – I don’t really look too far ahead.
“I think you have to take everything as it comes and not think too far ahead. I like to keep my feet on the ground.”