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Hughes praises Obafemi's 'great' performance in first Southampton start

The 18-year-old Ireland international was given the nod for last night’s Carabao Cup clash with Leicester City.

SOUTHAMPTON MANAGER MARK Hughes expressed his satisfaction with Michael Obafemi after handing the Irish youngster his first start for the club last night.

Leicester City v Southampton - Carabao Cup - Fourth Round - King Power Stadium Southampton's Michael Obafemi is tracked by Caglar Soyuncu of Leicester City. Source: Joe Giddens

Just over a week after making his senior debut for the Republic of Ireland, Obafemi played up front away to Leicester City as Southampton missed out on sealing a Carabao Cup quarter-final tie against Manchester City.

Penalties were required to separate the teams after the game finished goalless at the end of the 90 minutes, with Leicester advancing thanks to a 6-5 win in the shootout. Danny Ward was the hero for the hosts, having saved Manolo Gabbiadini’s effort.

Obafemi — who was replaced by Gabbiadini in the 89th minute — had a golden opportunity for Southampton in the second half, but the Dublin-born striker squandered his attempt from just a couple of yards out. Nevertheless, Hughes refused to single him out for blame in his post-match press conference. 

“Young Michael Obafemi had a great game,” said the Saints’ boss. “He missed a really good chance but I’m not going to criticise him too much. I thought Michael and Yan Valery who came in tonight gave us more energy, youthful enthusiasm and I think that helped us.”

Obafemi made his full first-team debut on the back of three substitute appearances earlier this season. The 18-year-old has also graduated to the senior international set-up, coming off the bench for Ireland in last week’s 0-0 draw with Denmark. 

 ”I think he’s in a good place at the moment,” Hughes said prior to last night’s game. “I thought he came on against Fulham and got a couple of shots off and was a little bit unfortunate, but that’s what he can do. He’s a livewire, he’s got a lot of pace, and that always upsets teams late on in games.”  

Leicester City v Southampton - Carabao Cup - Fourth Round - King Power Stadium Obafemi misses a chance for Southampton. Source: Mike Egerton

Obafemi was also praised by Radhi Jaidi, Southampton’s U23 coach, who feels the progress of the Ireland international — as well as that of French defender Yan Valery — has paved the way for other young players at the club.

There’s a substantial presence of up-and-coming Irish players at the Premier League outfit, with the likes of Aaron O’Driscoll, Thomas O’Connor, Will Smallbone, Jonathan Afolabi, Will Ferry, Kameron Ledwidge, Seamas Keogh, Roland Idowu and Sean Brennan all aiming to follow in Obafemi’s footsteps.

“The whole club has been involved in developing these boys. It’s so pleasing to see guys like Michael in the first-team squad as well as the Irish national team,” Jaidi told the club’s website.

“We always encourage the boys to see that perspective and hopefully perform well when they get the opportunity. We will keep pushing the boys and it’s really good for the rest to see the example set here by Michael and Yan.

“We want them to use it as a reference to work hard and make the same opportunity for themselves.” 

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Paul Dollery

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