Mason Bennett dips back under the radar but he will be given plenty of time develop skills
MASON Bennett produced a typically robust performance in Derby County's under-21 fixture against Sheffield Wednesday earlier this week.
He scored twice, had other chances and finished the 3-0 victory with a bloodied nose, courtesy of another heavy challenge on him.
At 16, Bennett is learning his trade.
He had made seven first-team appearances at this stage last season after bursting on to the scene as a schoolboy.
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A debut at Middlesbrough in October 2011 saw the Academy product become the club's youngest-ever player at 15 years and 99 days old, shattering the record set by Lee Holmes in 2002.
Bennett might have scored two or three goals on another day. He slammed one effort against the bar when he seemed certain to find the net but his display confirmed the youngster's potential and he made the headlines.
Another of the Academy starlets, Will Hughes, is now making the news.
The midfielder, who is 15 months older than Bennett, has emerged as the find of the season in the Championship.
His touch, passing and composure have caught the eye. He has become a regular in the side with 21 starts from 22 League appearances and interested Premier League clubs are circling.
Bennett has dipped back under the radar but he is making good progress.
It is easy to forget how young he is and that he has been in full-time training only since the summer.
"We have noticed an improvement in Mason through training with the first team every day. Generally, we are pleased with his progress," said manager Nigel Clough.
"We keep forgetting that he is only 16 and we have to keep reminding ourselves of that.
"Look at him physically and he looks a lot more mature but he is only 16.
"He is going to have his ups and downs and he has had a few niggling injuries.
"We have just got to give Mason time."
Bennett's total of nine appearances last season included two starts. The striker's three games this season have all been as a substitute.
"He's not going to have as much of an opportunity because he is going to be behind Nathan Tyson, Theo Robinson and Conor Sammon," said Clough.
Make that four when Jamie Ward is fit because the Northern Ireland international started the season in the side and scored four goals in eight games.
Bennett's match action this season has, in the main, been in the under-21 team and the under-18s. He has also made a handful of appearances for the England Under-17 side.
He has been asked to fill a number of roles across the front line, playing on the left, on the right and down the middle. Versatility can be useful for a young player but it is also important for them to feel at home in one position.
The development and progress made by Hughes and Bennett is a real feather in the cap for the Academy and there are other youngsters making a good impression.
Eight of the 14 players used in the under-21 fixture on Monday are products of the Academy – Josh Lelan, Jamie Hanson, Niall Dawkins, Andy Dales, Kane Richards, Adam Wixted, Kwame Thomas and Bennett. The substitute goalkeeper was Mats Morch.
The centre-backs showed plenty of promise. Lelan, who turns 18 tomorrow, defended with composure and Jamie Hanson, 17 only last month, showed an ability to pick a pass from the middle of the back four. Defenders being able to distribute has become more and more important in the game.
Another prospect is 15-year-old Max Lowe, who shone at left-back in the victory over Gateshead in the FA Youth Cup last week.
The youngster from South Normanton has been a regular member of Derby's under-18s this season and represented England Under-16s against Northern Ireland in September.