Gianfranco Zola has said Frank Nouble will get his chance at the "right time" as he looks to balance first-team needs with the youngster's development.
Just turned 18, Nouble is still eligible for the FA Youth Cup but has impressed in training with the first team all season and at 6'3 looks physically ready for the rigours of the top flight. He has five league appearances under his belt since his summer switch and could be on the bench again when his former club Chelsea arrive on Sunday afternoon.
It was at Stamford Bridge where Nouble shot to prominence with a host of goals for the Blues youth and reserve teams. That led to a summer switch to east London and the opportunity to work with Steve Clarke and Zola at a club where youth prospects always get a chance. Given his connection, the England Under-19 striker, like Scott Parker, will be eager to get one over his former employers.
Nouble was an unused replacement in the midweek loss at Bolton Wanderers and Zola explained why his young charge will be blooded slowly, even in the absence of the injured Carlton Cole and Zavon Hines. The latter's progress - not least against Liverpool in September - raised hopes Nouble could have a similar impact but Zola is mindful of the three-year age difference between the two.
Zola said: "Frank is still a young player. He has been playing reserve-team games but you have to play him at the right time. You don't have to give him too many responsibilities. We need people that have experience because I don't want him to be affected by our situation.
"I will play him at the right time. He is one of my options but Zavon had more experience before we played him. He has a couple of goals in the cup and played against Millwall this season. I didn't pick Zavon for the game against Liverpool off the cuff. He had played more games and he trained with me all last season as well."