Mansfield Town’s new-look youth production line of recent years saw 20-year-old midfielder Alistair Smith make his Football League debut at Carlisle – and manager John Dempster was a proud man.
As the former Stags Academy manager, Dempster know all about Smith’s potential and said: “It was a brilliant achievement for a young player to make his league debut.
“It is a landmark for any player and I am sure he will go on to make many more appearances, hopefully for Mansfield Town, and even at a higher level – hopefully with Mansfield Town.
“He has always been talented on the ball. He has developed physically which is a credit to the academy team and DT (Daryl Taylor, fitness coach) has done a lot of work with him most recently since being promoted to the first team.
“Alistair has grown no end. When he first came into the academy at 16 he was skin and bone.
“He still has a bit of filling out to do but now he’s grown into a powerful lad. He’s always had a great mentality, very professional, a good learner and very ‘coachable’.
“If he wants to go on and achieve his potential he needs to keep doing what he is doing and keep his feet on the ground. I will certainly help him do that.”
Smith had already played in two cup games for the Stags and Dempster admitted he was so engrossed in the game on Saturday he didn’t immediately realise he was giving Smith his big moment on the same ground he himself had also made his league debut.
“Initially I was immersed in the game and was having discussions with Lee Glover about tactical changes we could make,” he said.
“Alistair was somebody we thought we could bring on. He has good legs and a good height – as they were putting a lot of balls into our box.
“So the actual thought process of Alistair making his league debut didn’t really come into consideration.
“It was just what player can we use at this moment in time to benefit the team and Alistair popped up. I spoke to him briefly about set plays and his roles and responsibilities and it suddenly hit me that it was his league debut.
“It was the first time I have seen Alistair look nervous in the four years that I have known him as he is quite a composed character.
“But he went on and did a good job for the team. He followed what the boys who had already been on the pitch had done.”
Dempster said seeing Smith make his league debut would be a big boost to all the club’s youngsters.
“It sends a wave of positivity all the way down to the younger age groups to see there is a pathway,” he said.
“They see if you produce the goods for the youth team then you can be successful and go on to achieve what you want to achieve.
“Alistair is an example of that and we’ve got some other lads in the system who have got real potential.
“It’s about working hard and achieving that potential for a young player, overcoming all the challenges and obstacles that get thrown in your way as there are loads.
“We’ve got some good players in the U18s and the U21s now and I am sure they will go on and feature for our first team.”
Fellow youngster James Clark also made a League debut on Tuesday, albeit only for five minutes of stoppage time with Smith on since the 68th minute.