Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes praised David Watson for the way he has handled being thrown into the club’s relegation battle after handing the 18-year-old a new contract.
The midfielder has signed a two-year extension which ties the Ayrshire teenager to Rugby Park until the summer of 2025.
After enjoying two League Cup outings at the start of the campaign, Watson made his cinch Premiership debut at Ibrox in March and has gone on to start each of the last six matches.
Recent figures showed only 18 players eligible for Scotland Under-21s had started a Premiership game this season but McInnes is happy to plunge his young midfielder into the heat of the battle.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s visit of Livingston, McInnes said: “It’s always important a club tries to identify early on the better youngsters and tries to get them signed up.
“For a lot of clubs including ourselves getting as many younger ones through and into the team is clearly vitally important.
“We have lost a couple that we didn’t really want to lose in my short time here and there’s one or two more we would like to extend.
“But David has done very well in the first team, it’s not fazed him and he has handled everything that has been asked of him.
“He is always a boy we were drawn to when we first came in, the way he trains, the way he plays the game, and a lot of credit has to go to the development of the younger coaches here.
“It’s a reward for his performances and how he goes about his business. It gives encouragement to everyone in the academy what can be done, regardless of your age, if you are good enough you will get into the team.
“Sometimes youngsters can go in and play with abandonment. You want the boys to play the game anyway rather than the situation.
“Everyone likes to see a younger one coming through, particularly supporters, but David is there on merit.”
Killie play three of their last four league games at Rugby Park and McInnes has challenged his side to make home advantage count.
“You see from Saturday, the three teams at home (in the bottom six) won the game,” he said.
“Our home form has helped keep us in the fight – our away from would get us relegated, our home form would get us in the top six.
“I do feel with three home games coming up, it’s important we win the first one and that dose of confidence would help no end.”
Left-back Ben Chrisene’s season is over because of a hamstring injury while Kyle Vassell remains a doubt because of a similar problem.
“We resisted the chance to play him last week,” McInnes said of the striker.
“He has progressed but again it’s a similar conversation with Kyle and the physios.
“I need certainty that he is going to be OK because it’s that whole risk and reward thing. It’s important we have him fully fit rather than half fit, because if he is half fit you run the risk of extending the injury.
“Hopefully he is leading the line for us but if it takes another game then so be it.”
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