Didier Descshamps, World Cup winner with France as a manager and player, was nicknamed 'the water-carrier' by Eric Cantona.

The intended slur became a term of endearment to the French public, a reference to the combative defensive midfield qualities of Deschamps, who kept things simple and ticking over.

Dale Stephens is Albion's equivalent, the Marmite successor at the Amex to Ashley Barnes.

Manager Chris Hughton and his team-mates love him. It would be far too strong to suggest that some supporters hate him, but the mutterings across social media platforms are matched inside the stadium when Stephens passes backwards, is perceived to take the safe option.

It is not the first time the 29-year-old Lancastrian has encountered negativity over his contribution but it is water off a duck's back. "It's something I've spoke about previously and I've had similar situations at other clubs too," he said.

"I think it's because of the sort of player I am. I'm not going to get fans on the edge of their seats. I fully understand the role I have in the team and I've had it at previous clubs as well, so it's something I've got used to."

Stephens has also got used to playing under Chris Hughton. He has been selected 165 times by the manager in the equivalent of four seasons since an injury which followed his arrival from Charlton during the reign of Oscar Garcia (below).

The Argus: Hughton said: "I took an instant liking to him. I never really had any doubts about Dale, because of the type of player he is, the ability he has got, a strong personality.

"He's a very confident player, believes in his own ability. They are all the trademarks that allow somebody to make progress."

Hughton understands why Stephens is not more popular - he has never been voted Player of the Season.

"He is a very efficient player for us," the manager said. "I suppose if he was a central midfielder that scored more goals, could strike a ball from outside the box into the top corner and so on then perhaps he is going to catch the eye a little bit more of the supporters.

"Generalising, the type of players that supporters pick up on perhaps that little bit more are more your flair-type players, offensive-type players, but the likes of Dale are hugely important for the role they do for the team.

"For an Anthony Knockaert to score the goal that he did (at Crystal Palace), you need people around that that are going to allow that to happen. That is probably the most important thing, the job he does for the team."

There is, in fact, more to Stephens than straighforward passes sideways or backwards. It was his raking diagonal that picked out Knockaert for his memorable winner at Selhurst Park.

His protecting attributes are also highlighted by the 58 tackles he has made, considerably more than any of his team-mates according to official Premier League figures.

The Argus: Martin Montoya (above right) is next on the list with 49, followed by Stephens' midfield accomplice Davy Propper (46).

Figures matter less to Stephens than maintaining a level that keeps him in the team, just like Lewis Dunk behind him as part of the spine Hughton has depended on.

Stephens said: "I try not to read too much into stats, more my levels in terms of being an eight out of ten every single week.

"I think that is key in the way that I play and the role I play in the team. It's key for me to stay at a level where I'm consistently good hopefully.

"I think you need that. I'm not going to be a crowd pleaser. I know my job and know my role, the same way Dunky does. I know the levels I've got to hit.

"If I'm not hitting those levels then our squad is good enough for me to not play. I know my roles and responsibilities."

They include, in his own understated way, providing a semblance of calm control in matches when the momentum is against Albion.

"I'm more of a leader by example than a screamer or a shouter," Stephens said.

"We've got a few players of similar stature. Dunky is vice-captain of the club and he's not a screamer or shouter, he's more of a performer and sets examples that way."

Stephens, in many respects, epitomises the manager who has relied on him in the engine room to help Albion avoid relegation, win promotion, stay in the Premier League and reach an FA Cup semi-final for the second time in the club's history.

"It's one of his skills," Stephens said. "He has that calm presence and demeanour but when he's not happy he's not so calm and he can switch it the other way.

"He's very consistent with the way he approaches things, even in training.

"We do a lot of repetitive stuff and that's just making people's jobs more and more clear every week."

And keeping Albion on an upward curve.