Steven Davis' impressive progress at Aston Villa this season was underlined last night when the club acted decisively to secure his long-term future.
The 20-year-old midfielder, who has made 20 appearances this term after making his debut at Norwich City last September, signed a new contract at Villa yesterday - tying him to the club until June 2008.
Ballymena-born Davis is the latest home-grown talent to emerge through the ranks at Villa Park and his rapid development earned him his first cap for Northern Ireland against Canada last month.
At 5ft 7in, Davis is small for a modern midfielder but he is comfortable on the ball and has a superb temperament so he is not fazed by playing in the Premiership or at international level.
That has particularly impressed Villa manager David O'Leary who has a reputation for nurturing youth from his days in charge of Leeds United.
O'Leary's judgment has been rewarded by a string of assured displays by Davis who made his tenth Premiership start in the 2-0 home win against Middlesbrough last Saturday.
Davis said: "I put in a few good performances for the reserves early in the season and have been involved with the first team ever since.
"It's nice to have a new contract but you need a lot of things to come together - it's not just hard work.
"You need luck to get the chance to play and when you get that chance you need to grab it with both hands.
"I think I've done well when I've been in there and I'm happy with my performances. I have got to play against a few of the top teams.
"To compete against them just proved to me that I was capable of playing at that level. That was a confidencebooster and I'm just happy with the way things have gone."
Davis' pedigree is such that he looks set to emulate Darius Vassell, Jlloyd Samuel and Gareth Barry by progressing through the ranks at Villa and establishing himself in the first team.
Indeed, Davis' form has been so impressive he is keeping more experienced players such as Eric Djemba-Djemba and Thomas Hitzlsperger out of the side.
But O'Leary is not about to let Davis - who is still searching for his first senior goal - rest on his laurels as he has told the midfielder to start contributing some goals too.
"We want him to score goals," O'Leary said. "He catches the eye but, as an attacking midfielder, goals are the next improvement in his game.
"I'm a hard taskmaster but one who wants to improve the players. If you're an attacking midfield player you have to be getting shots at goal, creating chances and scoring them.
"He's one young lad that I've always had a bit of a hope for. He's a good little footballer and he's mentally strong. Steven is a quiet boy but he can look after himself. He is a robust fellow but I think little fellows have to be like that and tigerish.
"I spotted him immediately-We took him to Sweden on a pre-season tour last summer and he stood out straight away as a good little footballer - hopefully he can continue to develop."
With Davis' future at Villa secure for three years, the club will turn their attention to Luke Moore, who is out of contract in the summer.
The 19-year-old striker came off the bench against Boro to score Villa's second goal and recent injuries to senior forwards like Vassell and Juan Pablo Angel have given the exciting prospect an opportunity to show why he is so highly regarded at the club.
Villa have offered Moore, whose elder brother Stefan seems certain to leave the club, a new two-year contract to continue his promising development under their tutelage.
Moore said: "I have always said that I want to stay at Aston Villa and that's all I'll say. I want to stay. Simple as that."