The Premiership stage must have seemed like a long time coming for both Alton Thelwell and Ledley King — but it was worth the wait.
The 20-year-olds were thrown in at the deep end against Liverpool in Sunday’s televised encounter and responded with performances full of promise and maturity in our 2-1 win.
Thelwell, approaching two years as a professional at the Lane, finally made his first-team debut after a stint of seven matches on the bench. He replaced Ramon Vega in a defensive shake-up on the left-hand side of a three-man central defence.
King was named man-of-the-match by Sky Sports after a commanding display in the centre of midfield in his first start this season.
It has been a rocky year or so for King who produced a similar performance at Derby County last October only to suffer a knee injury that kept him out until May and then broke a bone in his foot in this summer’s European Under-21 Championships and was sidelined until October.
Now’s he’s back with a bang. Clutching his man-of-the-match champagne, King said: “It was hectic out there. It was my first start of the season, a very tough game but I enjoyed it and hopefully I can get a few more games under my belt this season.
“It’s nice to be man-of-the-match. I think I’ll give the champagne to my mum! She’ll enjoy it. I enjoyed it out there as well. Hopefully me and Alton can push on and see what we can do from here.”
Thelwell first had an indication that he might be involved at the back end of last week.
He revealed: “We did team shape on Friday so I had an idea then that I might be involved but I wasn’t too sure until today (Sunday). I was prepared for it and knew it was going to be a hard game against Liverpool — Fowler’s a quality player and so is Owen so I knew I would have my hands full.
“It was a great feeling to run out of the tunnel with the crowd, the atmosphere. I was overawed a bit but I knew I just had to concentrate on my game and I’m pleased with how it went.
“Once I got my first few touches I settled down a bit and enjoyed the rest of the game.
I’m there to be called upon. There have been a few injuries and hopefully I can stay in the team.”
So what did they think of each other’s performance? “I thought Ledley was quality in midfield,” said Thelwell. “He had a lot of hard work to do and he was running all over the place. He deserved to be man-of-the-match.”
King added: “It was Alton’s debut and it was never going to be easy against Liverpool but I thought he handled the pressure well. Hopefully he’ll play a few more times now.”
By Paul Miles