Keith Curle believes it was the right decision to hand young centre-back Ryan Hughes a first-team debut against Cheltenham Town on Saturday despite Cobblers seeing their unbeaten run end with a 3-1 defeat at Whaddon Road.
With captain and regular centre-back Aaron Pierre called up to international duty by Grenada, Curle opted against playing Shay Facey at right-back and shifting Charlie Goode across to centre-back, instead giving 17-year-old Hughes his first senior appearance of any kind.
He coped with the build-up very well and I think he’s enjoyed his afternoon and he’ll learn plenty after playing against Barnett and Varney up front.
The academy prospect had a difficult afternoon up against Cheltenham’s experienced strike partnership of Luke Varney and Tyrone Barnett, as did the rest of Northampton’s defence on a poor day in the Cotswolds.
After Sam Foley’s mistake led to an opener for Varney, a poor clearing header from Goode put Hughes in trouble and ultimately led to the young centre-back clattering into Barnett for a penalty late in the first-half, which Varney converted.
Barnett added a third in the second-half shortly before Hughes was replaced by Daniel Powell with 16 minutes to, but Curle felt it was the right time to hand the teenager his Cobblers debut.
“It was a great opportunity for the lad to come in and show what he’s about and he will learn a lot about himself from playing in the game,” said the Northampton manager.
“He coped with the build-up very well and I think he’s enjoyed his afternoon and he’ll learn plenty after playing against Barnett and Vary up front.
“They are two players with quality that he hasn’t come up against before but he’s got it in his armoury and he would have picked up the game understanding.
“We’ll do the video analysis with him individually and he could have won more headers and been more physical at times, but apart from that he filled the slot very well and he showed good understanding.”
Hughes’ only prior experience of men’s football came on a work experience loan with Southern League outfit St Neots Town, but he was thrown into the deep end at Whaddon Road on Saturday.
Asked why he opted for Hughes over Facey, Curle explained: “The lad’s been doing well and he’s been impressing. He was out on loan playing men’s football and he’s been performing very well.
“I’ve had good conversations with Kieran (Scarff) and Jon Brady about his development and he’s been training with us for about a week to 10 days and he’s done OK.
“His next progression is first-team game-time and first-team match experience and he’ll learn a lot from it.
“It’s the intricacies of not just being about winning headers, it’s about what goes on before that and the body contact, the aggressive nature that you need as a centre-back and he would have enjoyed playing alongside David Buchanan and Ash Taylor.
“It’s a massive learning curve for the lad and I know he enjoyed the experience.”