Arsenal starlet Daniel Ballard is making a huge impression on loan at Blackpool with Neil Critchley hailing the youngster’s “outstanding” form at Bloomfield Road, speaking to the Blackpool Gazette.
At the age of 21, this three-time Northern Ireland international is at a crossroads in his career.
Ballard is rapidly approaching the cut-off point for under-23 football and a place in Mikel Arteta’s first-team plans is still, for now at least, out of his reach.
So a loan spell at Blackpool felt like a major acid test for a player who, before this season, had just three senior appearances under his belt.
Fortunately, however, Ballard is passing those tests with flying colours.
He was man of the match as Blackpool kept their first clean sheet since mid-September during Saturday’s 1-0 triumph over fellow strugglers MK Dons. And former Football League journeyman Sam Parkin lauded an “exceptional” performance during the EFL on Quest highlights show.
While Critchley is determined to avoid raising expectations too high, the Blackpool boss couldn’t contain himself after a superb showing from his star centre-back.
“I don’t want to get too carried away with him because I don’t want to put a spell on him or anything,” the former Liverpool reserve coach says of Ballard.
“But he’s been outstanding in the two games he’s played and I thought he was nearly faultless defensively on Saturday.
“He has an assurance. He plays like a man and he defends well, competes well. I thought he was terrific.”
Ballard, a product of Arsenal’s academy since the age of eight, was rewarded with a new contract by the London giants last year.
Arteta has shown plenty of faith in youth since taking over from Unai Emery and, with Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis out of favour, more performances like Saturday’s could open a door for Ballard at the Emirates.
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