MARTIN CRANIE'S remarkable footballing life shows no signs of letting up.

Last Saturday he became the third youngster post-war debutant for Saints when he lined up at Stamford Bridge.

That was the culmination of a memorable week than had begun with the centre half heading a last-minute winner for Saints in their Under-19 Academy League semi-final play-off win against Arsenal at Staplewood. Boss Paul Sturrock had taken in the first 75 minutes of that match but left before Cranie's dramatic moment.

Then last Thursday Cranie skippered England Under-18s in a friendly loss to Sweden.

The next day he was taken aside and told he would be in the injury-ravaged squad travelling to Chelsea. It was only on the Saturday morning that he was told he was starting.

Cranie is scheduled to play for Saints in their Under-19 final play-off first leg tie against Sheffield United at St Mary's this Thursday - if Paul Sturrock allows him to!

As Saints have never won the FA Youth Cup (for Under-18s), success against the Blades would be the first national youth honour for the club in decades.

Cranie, though, is unlikely to feature in what might be a very young side in tonight's reserve match with Ipswich at St Mary's (7pm).

Academy director Huw Jennings declared himself delighted that Sturrock had given youth, in the shape of Cranie, a further chance - less than a month after handing Yoann Folly, 18, his Premiership debut against Tottenham.

Jennings said: "It was superb news, and Paul Sturrock obviously had real faith in Martin that he could do a job on the left hand side.

"I would have said Martin's favoured position is on the right, though he normally plays centre half he has played at right-back - he's even played midfield for the academy and reserve teams."

Cranie is currently in his first full season at St Mary's - during 2002/03 he attended just a few days training a week while continuing with his schooling in Somerset.

He is no stranger to setting Saints records - last year he became the club's first-ever dual international.

Due to his parents' differing nationalities, he first played for Scotland Under-17s before being selected for the England Under-17 side - for whom he pledged his international future.

Jennings is convinced 'fame' won't go to Cranie's head.

"He's a very calm lad, very assured, very composed - if the coaching staff thought the call-up would have affected him in any way I'm sure they wouldn't have chosen him.

"Martin will know this is just one step on the ladder - just because you've had one good game it doesn't automatically lead to a long playing career and international recognition. But I'm delighted for him.

"Though we have reached the Under-19 play-off final, I take more delight in seeing players like Martin progress to the first team - that's the aim of the academy.

"I knew deep down that when Arron Davies made the FA Cup Final 18 last season that we had a lot of very promising players at this club - and results and performances this season have borne that out."