Sunday’s victory over Liverpool once again demonstrated just how good we are here at the Lane, but it also gave a little insight into the future of the club.
Five of the players which started in front of the Sky TV cameras came through the ranks here, including Alton Thelwell who became the latest promising young star to break through into the first team.
It was almost two years ago that Alton was first handed a place in the senior match-day squad, being named by George Graham as a substitute for our visit to West Ham United in November, 1998.
Since then, the 20-year-old defender has been in and out of the first team squad until this season saw him really push for a starting place, having appeared on the bench in seven out of the eight games before the Liverpool encounter.
Now, though, the waiting is finally over and Alton can reflect on a debut that, as he admits, couldn’t have gone much better.
"It was a fantastic day all round," says Thelwell. "The cameras were there, we beat Liverpool and I was happy with my performance. It doesn’t get much better than that for a debut I don’t think."
Alton spent two months during the summer playing for Swedish second division part-timers IFK Hassleholm in an attempt to build up his fitness following an ankle injury sustained last season.
He returned fully fit and after impressing for our reserves in the early part of this campaign, his big chance soon came about.
"I had an idea I might be playing from training on Thursday," he says. "We did some shape work and Ledley and I were in the side that played against the youth team, so we both started to think this might be our chance.
"The manager announced the line-up a couple of hours before the match and it was great to see my name in the team. I tried not to think about it too much in case I got nervous. I just wanted to get out there and play."
It’s hard to imagine how it must feel when everything you have been working towards finally falls into place, but Alton gave a good glimpse as to what was going through his mind in the minutes leading up to kick-off.
"Before the match, the players and the management team were giving me words of advice, telling me to just play my normal game and don’t let the occasion get to me," says Alton.
"It didn’t really hit me until we came out of the dressing room into the tunnel. I then suddenly realised that this was for real and I started to get a bit nervous.
"But I got an early touch which was good, that was what I wanted. If you go a long time without touching the ball in a game like that it might start playing on your mind, but Neil rolled the ball out to me a few minutes into the game and that relaxed me a bit. There was a big cheer from the crowd as well and that really helped, it made me feel comfortable.
"The first half was okay, I saw quite a bit of the ball but when they scored they were playing well and I was worried for a while. But we fought back and it was good to be leading at the break.
"It was a different story in the second half because Liverpool came at us a lot more and we needed to be strong at the back, but we showed we can defend under pressure and kept them out."
So how did Alton feel he coped in dealing with one of the Premiership’s most potent strike-forces in Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen?
"To be honest I try not to worry about who I’m up against, I just get on with it," explains Thelwell. "But I was obviously aware of their talents and it’s not until you come face to face with them that you realise how good they are.
"They both make good runs, they are very alert and talked to each other all the way through the game. At the start of the second half I let Owen in although fortunately Neil saved his shot. But that made me realise the level of concentration you need when you play against world class strikers like him and Fowler. I enjoyed it though, it was excellent experience for me.
"I’m pleased to have got my debut out of the way. I’ll now have to wait and see if I’ve done enough to keep my place. People know what I’m capable of now, so I’ll keep training hard and hopefully build on Sunday’s performance.”
By Jon Rayner