Ralph Hasenhüttl is delighted with the way his Southampton youngsters are seizing their opportunity to mix with the first team.
The trio of Will Smallbone, Jake Vokins and Christoph Klarer are still to feature at senior level in competitive action, but all travelled to Austria on the club’s recent pre-season tour and featured in Saturday's 3-1 at Preston, in which Vokins got his name on the scoresheet.
Hasenhüttl has always pledged to give Saints’ next generation every chance of graduating through the system, and handed out four debuts to Academy graduates within a month of taking the job midway through last season.
“It’s not only the goal that makes me happy because of the young players,” he said of Vokins’s late clincher at Deepdale.
“I see Will Smallbone doing a fantastic job in the centre of midfield, and I see Christoph Klarer at the back fighting and showing he has developed his game.
“That’s our way and the way we want to go – giving young players the chance to play and seeing them develop.”
The boss also pointed to the form of his strikers as reason for optimism, after Danny Ings followed up Ché Adams’s debut goal against SCR Altach with a brace of his own in Lancashire.
Next for Hasenhüttl and his squad are trips to Ireland and China, before facing Feyenoord in the Dutch city of Rotterdam next Saturday.
“It’s good that we have quality up front and a fight for the first eleven – that’s what I want to have,” he added.
“We have split the group – one is going to Macau, the other is going to Dublin. On Wednesday, we will come together and focus on the Rotterdam game, so if everything works in the right direction we will have a very good week.”