Harry Souttar was in the thick of it in Stoke City’s 1-0 Carabao Cup win over Gillingham on Wednesday night.
The Scottish-born Socceroo, linked with a move to Portsmouth in recent weeks, helped his side keep a clean sheet to progress to the next round of the competition, while he almost broke deadlock at the other end.
A constant threat throughout from set-pieces, the centre-back got on the end of a searching long-ball in the 27th minute, only to be denied by a brilliant save from 18-year-old Gills keeper Joe Walsh.
After the game, manager Michael O’Neill said his three-man defence, marshalled by Souttar in the middle, did a “terrific” job nullifying Gillingham’s threat.
In a post-match press conference on Stoke City’s YouTube channel, he said: “It was a totally different challenge from what they faced in the previous round when they had to deal with real quality and pace that Wolves had.
“Tonight, they had to deal with physicality and long balls and all three did very well.
“Again, a totally different test for Nathan [Collins] – less so for Harry because he’s played the last 18 months in League One – but I thought they were terrific, to be honest.”
Souttar has been linked with a move to League One Portsmouth in recent weeks. But manager O’Neill played down that possibility during an interview with BBC Radio Stoke last week, saying the time is right for the Socceroo to be “knocking on the door” and pushing for a first-team place.
21-year-old Souttar is yet to feature in the league this season but has now helped his side keep two clean sheets in two Carabao Cup games against Wolves in the second round and Gillingham on Wednesday.
Next up for Stoke in the fourth round will be a trip to the winner of Bristol City vs Aston Villa on Thursday evening UK time.