ANY aspiring Saints left-back will have to bear the burden of comparisons with Gareth Bale and Luke Shaw.
For Matt Targett, that was most certainly the case last night as he followed in the footsteps of his two predecessors by making his first-team debut against Millwall.
It is eight years since a 16-year-old Gareth Bale began his journey from the Championship to the Bernabeu by helping Saints to a 2-0 win against Millwall St Mary’s in April 2006.
And it’s less than three since Shaw made his debut at an even more tender age.
The Manchester United new-boy replaced Bale as Saints’ second-youngest player behind Theo Walcott when he made his bow as a 77th-minute substitute for Jason Puncheon in an FA Cup fourth-round tie at The New Den in January 2012.
No-one is expecting Targett to be the new Bale or Shaw. Targett, who turns 19 in three weeks’ time, is only two months younger than Shaw.
But he will have gained confidence from his debut performance in Saints’ Capital One Cup win in south London last night. For starters it was a better result for the team than their previous cup visit, when Millwall earned a replay by cancelling out Rickie Lambert’s first-half goal late on, before winning the replay 3-2 at St Mary’s.
And, in helping to keep a clean sheet, Targett played well.
He got forward at every opportunity, was composed in possession, crossed a good ball and defended well when he had to.
The Eastleigh boy will also have benefited from playing in a relatively experienced team, with Ronald Koeman deciding to treat the Capital One Cup with more respect than his predecessor gave the FA Cup.
Targett made the most of Yoshida’s willingness to cover his forays forward, particularly in the first half, overlapping fellow academy alumnus Lloyd Isgrove before seeing his first cross deflected behind.
He linked up well with Shane Long and James Ward-Prowse, providing the pass for the latter to fire goalwards and was not afraid to fizz a cross into the penalty area.
Most importantly, Targett did his main job well. When former Saints midfielder Richard Chaplow robbed him of possession at the end of the first half, he won it back immediately.
And although he was booked for a foul on John Marquis late on, he had dealt with the Millwall striker with relative ease throughout.