RALPH Hasenhuttl believes Will Smallbone is the ‘future’ of Saints.

The midfielder impressed on his Premier League debut in the 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday.

It was a result that saw Hasenhuttl’s side move 10 points clear of the relegation zone, with Smallbone even hitting the post in the first half.

And the Austrian was thrilled with what he saw from the 20-year-old.

Saints’ boss said: “It was important for me to see that even under pressure, you can give a young lad a chance and it works. It for sure was a brave decision, I think.

“But when do we want to take this decision? When we have 31 points, six points clear of Villa in a home game, I think it’s a good moment to give a young lad a debut.

“He was very brave on the ball, he showed a few goal moves and had a big chance for scoring when his shot was deflected and hit the post.

“It would have been fantastic if he had immediately a goal.

“But he’s the future and this is the way of our future.

“Now we have 34 points and we now can start to look to the future for next season, what players we have for next year. This is more important than everything else.”

Smallbone made his first-team bow against Huddersfield in the FA Cup third round at the beginning of January.

Although he wasn’t at his best, the academy lad marked his debut with a goal to open the scoring for Saints.

However, he was then made to wait until the weekend before being drafted in for a Premier League tie.

But Hasenhuttl was always certain he’d use him at some point.

“I said always his time would come this season,” added the Austrian.

“I knew it before the season that he would make a few Premier League games. That was clear for me.

“With the captain and Prowsey in the No 6, it’s not so easy for a young lad to play. But I thought there was a chance to give him an opportunity and he took it with both hands.”

Explaining what Smallbone does to stand out in training, Hasenhuttl said: “He shows in the sessions that he plays a good ball with less touches. He can play left and right and also covers a lot of distance.

“I’m sure that if he plays more games, he will have the physical quality to play 90 minutes and I think he enjoyed it very much.

“It’s good for him and for every young player at the club. It shows we are looking at them and if they are good enough we won’t be scared to let them play.”