LIAM Manning expressed his delight at Oxford United’s academy set-up as Louis Griffiths became the youngest ever player to represent the club.

The forward only celebrated his 16th birthday on Sunday, and was introduced from the bench for the final quarter of an hour as United won 3-1 at Northampton Town in the EFL Trophy.

U’s head coach Manning was full of praise for the youngster, who made his first appearance alongside fellow debutants in George Franklin and Aidan Elliott-Wheeler.

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Manning said: “It made me smile that the first thing he did within 30 seconds was arrive in the pocket and demand the ball, which speaks volumes of his character.

“It shows there’s a pathway here for the players if you can help the team win and can progress.

“I said it earlier in the summer, our first thing is to look in-house before we look externally.

“Of course it’s a terrific record for him but it’s one he shouldn’t focus on or carry a burden, and he should enjoy his football.

“It’s quite refreshing when you see someone at that age step on the pitch and have that level of fearlessness. Long may that continue.”

On the academy trio to make their debuts, Manning said: “We work really closely with the academy and we’ve had them guys around us training with us.

“We know what’s coming through and that’s the good thing with this tournament.

“The lads gave the three boys a round of applause for their debuts.

“It’s not something everybody can say they’ve done, is play a professional football game.

“Hopefully they’ve now had a little taste of it, they understand it’s about going away and getting your head down, working, turning up and trying to improve every day, and ultimately delivering.”

Asked what he looks for in a young player, Manning responded: “First and foremost, we put a lot of trust in the staff. We’re in constant communication with Hacks [Chris Hackett] and Pabs [Pablo Haysham].

“We work closely and listen to those guys. I’ve spent so many years on the other side in the academy.

“The first thing I look for is the behaviours side – are they honest, are they hard-working, is their attitude good?

“The boys that we’ve had have definitely ticked that box, and after that, have they got that level of intelligence?”

Discussing the result against the Cobblers, Manning added: “We spoke beforehand that there’ll be some people that have obviously not had the minutes they’d have wanted, so the only way you can force things is by giving me a headache by performing like they did.

“Sometimes these games are extremely difficult when you’re not in rhythm or in relationships with certain people.

“Huge credit to the lads in terms of the behaviours from the start, despite giving away the penalty early on.

“How we responded after that was outstanding. It was a really good evening and I was pleased with so many aspects of it.”