Martin O'Neill believes teenage striker Nathan Delfouneso is "knocking on the door" of Aston Villa's Barclays Premier League side after scoring on his full debut in the UEFA Cup clash with MSK Milina.
Delfouneso's stunning strike from the edge of the box was one of the few consolations on the night for Villa, who were beaten 2-1 at home by the Slovakian side.
"I thought Nathan played brilliantly for us in the game. What a debut that was," said O'Neill whose side at least secured their place in the final 32 of the competition, along with Hamburg and Ajax. "Is he a contender for the Premier League now? It will be an interesting few months ahead because he has got great ability and I don't want to put an awful lot of pressure on him."
He added: "It is hard to say immediately that he is a Premier League contender but I think he is knocking on the door.
"I didn't tell him he was playing until I announced the team. I said to him there was a possibility he might start but don't bet on it. It was one of those selections where you don't want him to be vomiting overnight with the thought of it.
"But I knew his reaction would be fine. I am not surprised about how he handled it."
O'Neill, whose side will wind up their group programme in Hamburg in a fortnight, defended his squad rotation policy after making eight changes from the starting line-up against Fulha,
He said: "Obviously we are disappointed to lose the game and disappointed with the goals we conceded, but we are through to the last 32.
"When we set out in the Intertoto Cup in mid-July there was a long way to go and we are delighted to be through to the knockout stages.
"As regards changing the side, this was an opportunity for some players to come in and have a chance. But I still hoped we could win the game, even with the team we had."
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