Huddersfield Town academy boss Mark Lillis believes Town starlet Duane Holmes is ready for his first Championship start.

The teenage terror has proved a revelation in back-to-back substitute appearances and former Town player Lillis is backing him for his full debut.

Whether the 18-year-old will be unleashed against Middlesbrough tomorrow is unclear, but Lillis said: “The manager (Mark Robins) thinks a lot of him and so do I.

“I don’t think he would have any problem starting with him but we have to go steady and keep his feet on the ground.

“But when you come on, make an impact and create a goal, like he did against Blackpool on Friday, you put a seed in the manager’s head.”

 

Lillis, who made his own Town debut as an 18-year-old (under Tom Johnston in the 2-1 Division IV defeat at Newport in September 1978), added: “How do young players get experience? By playing games.

“You can’t wait until they reach 21. Players can be ready at 17 or 18. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”

American-born but Wakefield-raised, Holmes, whose first-team bow came from the bench in the Capital One Cup clash at Hull six days ago, has been at Town since the age of nine.

Despite a league debut live on Sky TV, the club are keeping him out of the spotlight as much as possible.

But Lillis reckons he has what it takes, explaining: “Duane’s got all the attributes. He has the skill and pace, great balance, knows a pass and has an eye for goal.

“He will need to be stronger upper body-wise because he is not the biggest but we can work on that.

“When I joined the academy 18 months ago I spotted him straight away. People were saying he was not big enough and this and that, but if you are good enough you have a chance.”

Lillis added: “I have worked with some good young players in my time like Marcus Tudgay and Tom Huddlestone. The big question is can they handle it mentally?”

Dealing with that is very much part of the day-to-day work in the academy and Lillis says young players are nurtured with a mixture of “discipline and warmth”.

He continued: “They get told if they are not doing things right and they get challenged. I have worked with top Premier League players and they don’t need telling every day how good they are and you have to be able to give them a rollicking.

“Our lads get a rollicking every day in a constructive way but if you are going to make it you need to work hard and put a shift in.”

Duane Holmes in action against Blackpool FC
Duane Holmes in action against Blackpool FC
 

Lillis was at Hull as a string of younger players were called on as Town lost 1-0 to their Premier League hosts.

“I told Duane to embrace the challenge,” said Lillis. “I said be yourself, don’t be fazed and don’t be sat on the bus afterwards with any regrets.

“It’s the same as the Under 18s, you are just playing against better players, but you have better players around you.

“He made an impact at Hull, and against Blackpool he lifted the fans and the team to be truthful. All credit to the gaffer for giving young players a chance.”

Lillis believes there is now a clear pathway from academy to first team at Town and that helps attract quality young talent to the club.

“There are a lot of young players who go to Premier League clubs but they are just numbers. Here you have a name,” he said. “They are all our sons. I have more than 100 sons!.

“All players should want to play in the Premier League. That’s where they should be aiming. They might have to play 200 games in the Championship first, but they should be aiming for the top.

“Town have always produced players for the first team but very few have gone on to the Premier League or the Championship.

“I see my role as trying to produce players who can handle the crowd, handle the game and handle being on television.

“This is my first academy manager’s job and I started with a clean slate. We have some good coaches here, level-headed people who have been to the top.

“Duane is the name on everyone's lips right now but there are a few more who can hopefully come through. It’s a good time for the club.”