Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl heaped praise on Premier League debutant Will Smallbone, explaining why the time was right to give the youngster his first taste of top-flight football.
The Academy graduate only turned 20 years old one day before his landmark appearance against Aston Villa at St Mary’s, in which the midfielder played 80 minutes and was later voted man of the match by Saints supporters.
Smallbone scored on his only previous first-team appearance, against Huddersfield in the FA Cup last month, and now the boss hopes to give more of the club’s youngsters a chance to impress.
“I think he shows in the sessions that he can play,” the boss said. “He’s left and right-footed – similarly good – and he knows our philosophy now very well.
“The rest is about getting the chance to play, and if you play, you have to do a good job.
“In the end, he was struggling with the power and the energy a little bit, but it’s ok, he did a good job.
“I’m very happy for him that in an important game he gets his debut in the Premier League, one day after his 20th birthday.
“It’s a signal for the club and for him: this is the way we want to go.
“We have a few more guys in our youth who will get the chance in the future – we must see how far they are in their development.”