Simon Grayson says Blackpool starlet Tony Weston fully deserved to be handed his senior debut in the FA Cup on Sunday.
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The 16-year-old made his first appearance as a professional footballer off the bench in the 3-1 second-round win at home to Maidstone United.
It capped off a whirlwind week for the youngster, who had to be taken out of school to travel to Suffolk as a member of the Pool squad for the 2-2 draw at Ipswich Town the previous weekend.
The forward, who has scored 14 goals for the youth team this season, was then named as a substitute for the midweek EFL Trophy defeat by Scunthorpe United.
But Weston was given his first taste of senior action last weekend, when he replaced Liam Feeney in the 89th minute.
Weston had time to make an impression, getting into some dangerous areas and showing bags of enthusiasm.
“He deserved the opportunity,” Grayson said. “I’ve not stopped talking about him with my staff since watching him (in a reserve game) at Squires Gate about 10 days ago.
“He went to Ipswich with us last week and he trained with us the back end of the week.
“He’s got so much enthusiasm. The lads were watching what he was doing, where his pure enthusiasm and love of being a professional footballer is at the front of his mind.
“He’s got 30-year-old lads behind him in the warm-up and I’ve never known a 16- year-old lead with stuff like that.
“He’s got confidence in his ability and it’s great for him. He’ll never forget his debut.
“To be fair, he could have had a couple of opportunities, especially on one occasion when Sullay (Kaikai) should have played him in.
“He had good movement and it would have been interesting had the kid put it in, which I think he would have done.”
Weston was named in Pool’s 18-man squad ahead of Ryan Hardie, who was left out following his disappointing display in the EFL Trophy exit.
Hardie, a summer signing from Rangers for an undisclosed fee, has endured a frustrating start to life at Bloomfield Road, scoring just once in 12 outings.
When asked why Hardie was left out, Grayson said he had to include a homegrown player under EFL rules. However, it’s understood those rules don’t apply for the FA Cup.
When asked by The Gazette if fans should read anything into Hardie’s absence, Grayson said: “No, not really.
“We have to have a homegrown player on the bench and it’s been (goalkeeper) Jack Sims over the last few weeks.
“But on this occasion I thought Mark Howard probably deserved to be amongst it as well as Tony.
“I have options to make. Others have been left out of the 18 as well and it’s all part and parcel of it all.”