MARTIN CRANIE added his name to an illustrious list when he made his senior Saints debut at Stamford Bridge.

In the process he became one of the youngest players to make their first post-war start for the club.

Yeovil-born Cranie, who is in his first year as an academy scholar at St Mary's, was only 17 years and 218 days old when he ran out to face the multi-millionaires of Chelsea.

Only three players have made their first post-war start for Saints at a younger age - and all of those went on to enjoy great careers which included full England honours.

Danny Wallace was only 16 years and 314 days when he played at Old Trafford in 1980 and Martin Chivers 17 years and 103 days when he first played in 1962.

And Mick Channon was just 17 years and 185 days when he scored on his debut against Bristol City in 1966.

Saints legend Terry Paine was a week short of his 18th birthday when he made his bow in 1957 while current midfielder Matt Oakley was 17 years and nine months old when he first played in 1995.

Even Alan Shearer, who fired a hat-trick on his full debut for Saints against Arsenal in April 1988, was older than Cranie at 17 years and 229 days when he first played as a sub against Chelsea in March of that year.

Danny Higginbotham has rallied behind Martin Cranie and promised "he'll get better and better."

Cranie made his Saints debut at Stamford Bridge on Saturday aged just 17 but was unfortunate enough to score an own goal in the 4-0 defeat.

It was a heartbreaking moment for the England under-18 international in what was a highly promising display.

But Higginbotham said: "Martin was alright after the game because everybody thought he'd played well.

"As soon as he came in the dressing room all the lads have told him that he did well because he did.

"He's a young lad and may have got the own goal but he played brilliantly.

"For a young lad to come in against a team like Chelsea and play like he did, he's got nothing to be ashamed about.

"At 17 it's such a hard place to make your debut but he acquitted himself very well - he's another good player coming through the ranks.

"Things like the own goal happen in football - he challenged for the ball and it's unfortunate the way it's come off his head.

"But he's a very good footballer and he's just going to keep getting better and better."

Higginbotham added: "He's trained with us a few times and represented England at various levels and I'm sure it was a great experience for him.

"The greatest compliment you can pay him is that he didn't look out of place. He looked very, very comfortable.

"The good thing about young players when they come into the team is that they just enjoy the game."

Cranie was also backed by Paul Sturrock - the man who decided to blood the youngster, who favours playing on the right, on the left side.

The Saints boss said: "It was a hard debut to give anybody. He is a 17-year-old who had played on Thursday with the (England) under-18s.

"Cranie is basically a right-back or centre-half, but the problem we had all week is that I was going to Chelsea 4-4-2 and then we had two key injuries, Pahars and McCann, so we had to change something and have a look at something."