RALPH Hasenhuttl has heaped praise on Saints youngster Thierry Small and refused to put a timescale on potential first team involvement, adding: “You never know, sometimes it goes quick.” 

The 17-year-old left-back refused a professional contract at Everton in the summer in order to sign a deal with Saints, despite making an FA Cup debut for Carlo Ancelotti, in search of a clearer pathway to senior football.

It looked as though it would be a long road after Hasenhuttl revealed the Solihull-born talent had arrived with some knee-strength issues, but he has lit up Premier League 2 for Saints’ B team.

He made his bow with 60 minutes back in September during a free-to-watch contest with Burnley’s under-23s at St Mary’s, when David Horseman’s side continued a torrid losing run.

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But he’s played five since then without defeat, including scoring his first goals in red and white during demolitions of Aston Villa, Newcastle and League Two Crawley town as the team recorded five successive victories.

Operating in a more advanced left-wing-back role, Small has terrorised the full-backs that have been tasked with trying to mark him up to six years his senior, making marauding runs and peppering shots at the goal.

And the performances have caught Hasenhuttl’s eye. Speaking to the Daily Echo, the boss said: “I was very pleased with the whole performance of the under-23s, they seemed also to have found a turnaround now with Nathan Tella, Will Smallbone, Thierry Small playing for them.

“Thierry I must say, very enjoyable to watch this lad, feels absolutely good here at this club. He has some really good potential, physically, mentally he is a fantastic guy I think.

“Very positive, enjoys everything he does. Very shiny person I must say, still a lot of things to learn but I like to work with this player.”

Daily Echo: Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl has showered praise on teenager Thierry Small (Pic: Stuart Martin)Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl has showered praise on teenager Thierry Small (Pic: Stuart Martin)

He added: “It’s the way I was always working in my managerial career that we have young, good players with positive energy that can improve, we can make them better.

“He feels good in the team and the team loves him also.”

Upon opening his account with a well timed run into his side of the opposition penalty area to sweep home, Small burst into an impassioned celebration – he kissed the badge of the club he joined three months ago before indulging in a knee slide.

Albeit a bit overboard for a Premier League 2 opener, we’ve seen how much passion can do for one’s popularity and performance in Brazilian defender Lyanco.

Lyanco, 24, had to wait for an EFL Cup tie to get his first Saints chance – could it be that Small has to wait for a potential FA Cup third round clash against lower league opposition for his, just like how he made his debut for Toffees in January this year?

“Maybe, yeah,” Hasenhuttl responded, before insisting with a smile, “you never know, in some moments it goes quick.

Daily Echo: Thierry Small made his first team debut for Everton aged 16 in the FA Cup (Pic: PA)Thierry Small made his first team debut for Everton aged 16 in the FA Cup (Pic: PA)

“Especially this season we have, in this position, many more options and this makes it harder for him.

“But he is a long-term project like all of the young players we have, and I see good potential, I’m very happy to have him.”

Saints' B team were victorious 4-0 over also-eliminated Crawley Town in their last EFL Trophy game of the season on Tuesday evening, with Small scoring expertly from a narrowing angle as well as assisting.