Kevin Keen paid tribute to his "outstanding" senior professionals after they helped the reserves to victory in a competitive encounter against Portsmouth last night.
Although Craig Bellamy's return to form and fitness was the headline of the 1-0 win - "He played with plenty of energy and its lovely to have him back", said Keen - there were special plaudits for veteran defender Christian Dailly who once again excelled and young Academy graduate James Tomkins who is showing versatility at a young age.
Dailly was deployed at right-back, having performed in the previous two reserve games as a tough-tackling central midfielder, and barely put a foot wrong. "As a reserve team manager, he's the perfect man to have," Keen said of the 34-year-old who was a constant constructive presence on the south coast last night. In muddy conditions on a chilly night, he gave his all for the cause - barking orders to team-mates, weighing in with strong challenges and even having a few passionate exchanges with the match officials.
"Christian has a real enthusiasm for the game," Keen added of the committed Scottish international who has not long returned from a two-month loan at Southampton . "He does everything right and he is really fit. He's experienced, he talks to the players in the way they understand, his enthusiasm rubs off on others, it's great to have him around and obviously he really wants to play first-team football."
The manager added that a knee injury suffered by James Collins in the game could yet lead to a first-team opportunity for Dailly, although Danny Gabbidon and Tomkins also impressed against Portsmouth. The duo's display underlined the defensive strength in depth with Matthew Upson, Anton Ferdinand and Jonathan Spector also available to Alan Curbishley, who was an interested observer last night..
Tomkins was deserving of particular praise, having begun the game in an unfamiliar left-back role before replacing Collins in the centre. In the previous reserve outing, a 2-1 defeat away at Aston Villa, Keen deployed the 18-year-old at right-back. It is all part of a plan to give the young defender vital experience of playing right across the back line, and a greater appreciation of what his team-mates encounter.
"He is a very talented young man. He played very well and it is good for him to play somewhere else to get an understanding of the game. Having played at left-back he will understand what it takes to play that position, but he can improve. I had a go at him afterwards, as he gave a free header towards the end, and I didn't want a repeat of what happened against Villa when they scored in the last two or three minutes. I expect that little bit more because he's got it in him."
Keen was also full of praise for his other younger performers. "The attitude shown was excellent," he said. "It was a really decent game played by us. Freddie Sears did well, playing up front with Bellamy. Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines, the two wide men, worked really hard. And, in midfield Jack Collison and Tony Stokes, who is back from Stevenage, did really well against two good players. I think they came out on top."