A TEENAGER who has only been training fulltime with the Western Sydney squad now he's on school holidays has made an impressive debut in the Wanderers' dramatic derby win over Sydney FC.
Young defender Daniel Alessi, who became the third youngest player to feature in an A-League game, put in an assured performance as the Wanderers beat their local rivals 1-0 on Saturday night.
The 16-year-old wasn't at all overawed by the occasion or the raucous atmosphere at Pirtek Stadium, fitting seamlessly into the Wanderers back four and keeping Sydney's Ali Abbas quiet for much of the 90 minutes.
Coach Tony Popovic said he had no hesitation throwing the youngster in once regular right-back Jerome Polenz strained a hamstring at training on Friday.
"The young boy's been doing well...he's been training with us for a little while now, or at least since he's been on school holidays," Popovic said of Alessi.
"He did great and we believe in the kid.
"He's only a 16-year-old boy. I still remember my debut and I'm sure he'll never forget this one.
"I just told him to enjoy it because everyone's got belief in him, do his job and enjoy the occasion. And he did well."
Popovic has never been afraid to throw his youngsters into big games, with the likes of Kwabena Appiah, Yianni Perkatis and Jaushua Sotirio all being blooded at stages over the last season and a half.
The Wanderers boss said: "I believe in every one of our players in our squad and I believe in our youth team as well.
"If we feel they're good enough we'll give them an opportunity. If we feel they're right for that game they will play.
"It won't always turn out they play great but you have to start somewhere.
"You have to have faith in your squad or you may as well just have a 15-man squad instead of a 23-man squad."
While Alessi's debut caught the eye, the Wanderers put in one of their better team performances of the season to secure their derby success.
The home side hit the woodwork on four occasions in the first half, before eventually claiming the three points thanks to Brendan Santalab's late winner.
Asked if he thought it wouldn't be their night after all the missed chances, Popovic said: "No I didn't doubt it.
"Football is like that sometimes where you have so many opportunities and you hit the post so many times but you've got to keep believing.
"The players were back to the way we play. We didn't lose our structure, we defended well, we kept believing that we'd get a goal.
"Derbies are difficult. I said (on Friday) 'do whatever it takes to win the three points'.
"So in the end it was a well-deserved victory."
The result means the Wanderers have closed the gap on league-leaders Brisbane to just four points, ahead of another huge game against Melbourne Victory on Tuesday night.