Luton boss had full belief in handing 17-year-old Joe Johnson his Hatters debut in the Championship

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Young defender gets on for final stages of 2-1 victory

Town boss Rob Edwards had full confidence in handing 17-year-old Joe Johnson his first taste of Championship action when sending him on in the final stages of Monday night’s 2-1 win over Middlesbrough.

The teenager has been a big part of the successful U18s squad this season, playing an important role in their journey to the FA Youth Cup fifth round.

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On the bench at Grimsby Town in the FA Cup, Johnson, who recently signed his first professional development contract, remained an unused substitute, but with Luton short of defenders, Gabe Osho, Reece Burke and Dan Potts all injured, was named as a substitute for the first time in a league game against Boro.

Teenager Joe Johnson makes his debut for the Hatters against MiddlesbroughTeenager Joe Johnson makes his debut for the Hatters against Middlesbrough
Teenager Joe Johnson makes his debut for the Hatters against Middlesbrough

Late on and with Luton 2-1 to the good, Johnson got his big moment, as despite having never played senior men's football before, he was sent on in the heat of a second tier battle for Alfie Doughty.

Up against the impressive Isaiah Jones would no doubt have been a daunting prospect for the youngster in his left wingback role, but he came through it impressively, making some important interventions and clearances in the latter stages as well.

Edwards said: “He did handle it well, we’ve got belief in him, I wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t.

"He showed some really good little moments didn’t he?

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"A couple of good interceptions and blocks and positionally very good, he’s got a good confidence about him.

"We’re clearly lacking a few defenders at the moment, I don’t think they’re too far away, but when we’re having our staff planning meetings, especially yesterday (Monday), we were looking at potential changes we might have to make.

"Alfie was one that was flagged up, so we felt that positionally as well, Joe was the right one to come into the squad.”

Johnson was one of five youngsters who all agreed development deals recently, along with Zack Newton, Jacob Pinnington, Axel Piesold and Jayden Luker.

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Edwards is hopeful that by seeing Johnson make his first team bow it will give them a push in their attempts to emulate him.

He continued: “He’s been training with us a lot and done really well.

"Whenever we’ve watched him with the 21s he’s been very, very good.

"He’s had a great season, so he’s deserved that and hopefully what that shows as well is there’s a pathway here for the young players.

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"We’ve got some real talent in the youth team, so hopefully that gives a little bit more belief to some of them as well that the chance is there for them.”

Striker Carlton Morris, who scored a 20th goal of the season from the penalty spot, was thrilled to see Johnson get his opportunity as well, adding: “I’m really proud of him, making his debut must have felt really good for him.

“It’s brilliant, he’s been good in training, never seems out of place.

"I remember being a young lad back in the day training with the first team at 17, 18, I wouldn’t be as confident as he seems now, so I’m made up for him.”