CELTIC defender Adam Matthews reckons teenager Liam Henderson has got the skills to rival anyone in the Parkhead squad.
The 17-year-old was handed his full Hoops debut by boss Neil Lennon in Friday night’s 3-0 win at Kilmarnock.
The manager of the champions-elect claimed his youngster was superb as he started a Scottish Premiership match for the first time at Rugby Park.
And Welsh full-back Matthews believes Henderson has the talent to be as good as anyone currently on Celtic’s books.
He said: “I thought Liam was brilliant on his full debut. He has shown in training all season that he is a top player. He didn’t look out of place at all against Kilmarnock. He got a bit tired towards the end but that was always going to happen.
“For a debut, it was up there with the best I have seen. We have got a few good youngsters coming through and he is got to be up there with the best of them.
“He showed at Rugby Park that he can definitely play at this level.”
The last graduate of the Celtic youth academy to clinch a regular first-team slot was winger James Forrest.
Henderson took the injured Scotland international’s slot on the right of midfield against Killie and Matthews says the signs from that match point to the youngster making a similar kind of impact as Forrest.
“They are totally different players, James is more of a winger who likes to take on players while Hendo is more technical and a passer of the ball,” said Matthews.
“But technically Hendo is up there with the best in the squad, not just the young ones. I think he has got the potential to be as successful as James.”
As well as Henderson, Celtic - now just three wins from the title - have also given game time to 19-year-old defender Darnell Fisher this season and Matthews expects to see more Lennoxtown students thrown into top-team action before the season is out.
“The gaffer will want to do that once the league is wrapped up,” said Matthews. “We have a few youngsters training with us and they will get their opportunity to show what they can do. That will hopefully give them a bit of confidence ahead of next season.”
Matthews watched Aberdeen win Sunday’s League Cup final at Parkhead with a penalty shoot-out win over Inverness.
But the defender admits the Hoops have blown a “special chance” to win a trophy at their own ground after allowing Morton to end their League Cup hopes and losing to Aberdeen in the William Hill Scottish Cup.
He said: “I watched bits of the final. It was tough for us not being there but all credit to Aberdeen, they have done very well this season and deserved to win, but I didn’t pay that much attention to it.
“We’re a wee bit jealous watching those scenes on our ground because we wanted to win every competition we entered this season. We’re disappointed with the way we played in the cups but our league form has been brilliant.
“It would have been extra special to have played a final at our home stadium but it wasn’t to be. We can’t dwell on it and we’ll just have to concentrate on the games to come and hopefully win the league as soon as possible.”