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Ward-Prowse fights Rickie's World Cup corner
Updated 4:32pm Friday 4th April 2014 in Sport
James Ward-Prowse could not have asked for any more from his first two seasons in Southampton's first team, having flourished since making his league debut as a nervy 17-year-old against this weekend's opponents Manchester City, writes James Peach.
More than a few eyebrows were raised when the teenager was named in Southampton's first top-flight starting line-up in seven years at the home of the reigning champions back in August 2012.
However, Ward-Prowse - like his unfancied team-mates - did themselves proud in a 3-2 defeat at the Etihad Stadium and have kicked on since then.
Southampton return to City on Saturday sitting eighth as the season enters the home straight and the midfielder - still a teenager - has made a further 43 league appearances.
Ward-Prowse is also a key part of the England Under-21 set-up and is a different proposition to the dainty midfielder that nervously stepped out at the Etihad Stadium almost 20 months ago.
''Jack Cork was injured so I was playing most of the pre-season friendlies, so I had an inkling I would be starting,'' Ward-Prowse told Press Association Sport.
''To see it come up in the presentation before the game obviously made me so nervous.
''All that kept running through my head was that it was on TV, my Premier League debut against the champions and all the names I would be up against.
''The warm-up was the worst because the crowd was building and building.
''All our fans were excited because it was our first game back in the Premier League. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but I think I settled in really quickly.''
Ward-Prowse fondly recalled his part in Rickie Lambert's goal - Southampton's first back in the top flight - and has loved every second of his time with the club since.
''It couldn't have gone any better,'' he said. ''For me, to be in and around a Premier League set-up at my age is unbelievable, but to get the games that I have had and all the starts I have had has been good.
''Obviously now I am trying to nail down a permanent place in the team but that is difficult when you've got such quality players in the squad.
''It is difficult when you're not playing - we as footballers want to play every minute of every game.
''But you've got to understand it is a long, tough season and obviously I am young.
''I trust the manager in what he is doing. He may need to take me out for a few games to give me a bit of a rest and I think he did that at the right time.
''When I came back into the team, starting the last three games, I felt fit, fresh and replenished again. I think it was good management by the gaffer.''
Ward-Prowse is one of a number of young English talents coming through at Southampton.
The most high profile member of that group is Luke Shaw, whose rise to England international has filled his old friend with pride.
''He is a top player, a top lad and has got all the attributes to be a world-class left-back,'' Ward-Prowse said.
''He is on that path and he has just got to keep his feet grounded, make sure he works hard and I am sure he will be there.
''To see him make the journey with me since we were nine years old and then obviously for him to kick on in the last bit is incredible to see.
''I am really gunning for him to go to the World Cup.''
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