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Saints ace Jason Puncheon can play for England, according to the man who gave him his big break in football.

Paul Fairclough was manager at Barnet in 2006 when he signed the winger, whose career looked as if it might have been consigned to the scrapheap at the time.

Released from MK Dons, following their controversial move from Wimbledon, Puncheon had been turning out for non-league clubs such as Fisher Athletic and Lewes.

The Premier League seemed a long way off then.

But Fairclough, who said Puncheon couldn’t even hold down a regular place at non-league level at that time, believed he saw a player with top-flight potential.

His faith was not unfounded.

Puncheon, now 26, has starred for Saints on their return to the Premier League.

No performance was better than his inspirational one against QPR last weekend that helped the club secure a vital 3-1 win at their fellow strugglers.

It was a display that capped a remarkable transformation for Puncheon at St Mary’s, where he has gone from an outcast to a valued member of the first-team.

For Fairclough, though, that is no surprise.

He has witnessed first-hand how Puncheon has responded to adversity.

“Jason was at probably the lowest point of his career when he came to us,” said Fairclough.

“We took him on trial and, for me, it was blatantly obvious he was a lad with talent – no question about that.

“We provided him with a platform, we believed in him, and he performed for us.

“I always believed Jason had Premiership ability. The question mark was whether he had Premiership attitude.”

That is a question that has passed the lips of a number of Saints fans since he joined the club from Plymouth in January 2010.

After Alan Pardew, the manager who signed him, was sacked, Puncheon was frozen out for much of the League One and Championship promotion campaigns.

His career at St Mary’s then appeared to be over when he publicly criticised chairman Nicola Cortese at the start of this year.

But, after an apology, Puncheon was granted a clean slate. He has used it to good effect.

“I knew Jason was getting frustrated, but full credit to him and the staff down there,” said Fairclough.

“Someone seems to be pressing the right buttons for him at the club now. The manager is getting the best out of him.”

Fairclough, now manager of the England C team, for non-league players, admitted that a young Puncheon was not always easy to control.

“Jason was an angry young man and that was getting in his way,” recalled the 62-year-old, who is also director of football at Barnet.

“I would be telling you fibs if I said it was always easy with him.

“We had to be very patient at times with Jason.

“We kept him in line and showed him what we believed was the right way for him, both as a person and a footballer.

“He’s taken a while to grow up. He could test you and stretch you, but it was worth it because he’s got such great ability.

“He’s matured now. He’s a different man, he’s a proper man. He’s got a couple of children now, and that, I think, has helped him.

“The biggest thing he’s put into his game is work ethic.

“Sometimes the coin drops, and when it does with certain players you can get something really quite spectacular.”

Fairclough believes Puncheon’s talent is special enough that he could eventually earn consideration for the England team.

“I would love to see Jason pull on an England shirt,” he said. “Jason has got the quality. We are always bemoaning how short we are of left-sided players.

“He would kill for it, I think.”

Fairclough has challenged Puncheon to make sure that his current form is not just a flash in the pan.

“I’m hoping this is not just going to be a period in his game that is here one minute and gone the next,” he said.

“It’s about sustaining this now for Jason.

“He hasn’t peaked yet. I just want him to keep his head down and keep on this path. He’s a gifted player.”