Aston Villa caretaker boss Eric Black heaps praise on Kevin Toner

The 19-year-old centre-back made his first-team debut for the club in last Saturday's 4-2 defeat to Southampton.

Aston Villa caretaker manager Eric Black believes defender Kevin Toner deserves “enormous credit for his mentality" after pushing his way into the first-team picture.

Toner, 19, earned his senior debut for Villa last weekend when he replaced the injured Micah Richards at half-time of the club’s 4-2 home defeat to Southampton.

The Republic of Ireland Under-19 international went on to produce a composed performance alongside Joleon Lescott in the heart of the defence and was even credited with the assist for Villa’s second goal after getting a slight touch on Jack Grealish’s delivery into the box before it fell for Ashley Westwood to finish past Fraser Forster.

He now looks likely to make the bench for a second straight game on Saturday afternoon when the claret and blues face Watford at Vicarage Road, and Black was quick to stress at his pre-match press conference how much the promising centre-back deserves his chance.

The former Coventry City boss has been notoriously reluctant to throw any youngsters into the first-team mix during the run-in due to the “toxic atmosphere” surrounding the club, but he admits that Toner’s eagerness and enthusiasm has made him a refreshing addition to the senior setup.

Asked about the Irishman's emergence, Black told reporters: “It’s fantastic. I’m absolutely delighted for him. But again, there has to be a process in place prior to him actually getting on the pitch.

“That involves watching him in the Under-21s, speaking to his coaches about his mentality, looking at how physical he is, whether he can cope with a certain level of football and then bringing him into training with the first-team and giving him a good week to get involved in that.

“And then at that point it’s still not 100 percent sure, but you take the decision whether he plays or not.

“I think he deserved enormous credit for his mentality,” Black continued. “I’ve been really refreshed by his mentality and the desire to be a football player. I think it’s something that’s sadly missing at times these days.

“I think just to see a young man who’s so passionate about being a football player and will do anything to be a football player is wonderful.”

A product of Home Farm, Toner joined Villa from the Irish outfit in 2012 as a scholar and has since risen through the ranks to establish himself as one of the club’s top defensive prospects.

The County Meath native, who is comfortable playing at either centre-half or left-back, has been a star performer for the Under-21 side over the past two seasons and also impressed during a month-long loan stint at Kidderminster Harriers earlier this term, featuring six times for the National League team.

His current contract is set to expire this summer, but with the club having the option to extend his deal for another 12 months, it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will be back next season to push for more minutes in the Championship.

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