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13 October 2016

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Gaffer "proud" of keeper Christian's Under-21 debut

Hatters boss Nathan Jones believes Christian Walton’s debut for England Under-21s is just the start of a successful international career for the on-loan Brighton goalkeeper – and that it could trigger a batch of national squad call-ups for Luton Town youngsters.

Walton, 20, already had 12 caps at U19 and 20 level and was picked by Gareth Southgate for the U21s last season when on loan at Bury, but had to withdraw through injury. 

He was called up last week as a replacement for Sunderland’s Jordan Pickford for the Euro 2017 qualifying double-header against Kazakhstan and Bosnia & Herzegovina, making his first appearance for that age group in Tuesday’s 5-0 win over the latter at Walsall.

Speaking at his Ely Way Press conference this afternoon, Jones said: “We are very proud of him for making his debut. He’s been in the squad a few times. We like to think we’ve helped him along the way in his development, with him stepping up.

“For me, he’s as good as a young keeper as there is about. That’s why we’ve got him here. On the day, he didn’t have too much to do but when he was called upon, he made one outstanding save. He does look the part and we’re proud of him.”

Asked whether he could see international recognition coming the way of other young players in his squad, the Welshman went on: “Trust me, they are aware of what we’ve got here and I think if it wasn’t because they are so heavily involved in our first team, they probably would have in the other groups. 

“What they’ve done, they are very understanding. We’ve got a good relationship there and they realise that if they are playing in our first team and involved in our first team, then just to get them called up is not always the best thing. 

“They’ve understood their progression and they’ve left them to us, but we’ve got good young players here and ones that I’m sure will gain international recognition.”

The Hatters head to Leyton Orient on Saturday on the back of a five-match unbeaten run in all competitions, with the 3-1 win over Doncaster on 24th September followed by three 1-1 draws in the league against Hartlepool, Cheltenham and Crewe, and a 2-0 Checkatrade Trophy win over West Brom.

Sitting fifth in the table, the Town are nine points behind leaders Plymouth – who we beat 3-0 in Devon on the opening day – and three behind third-placed Carlisle. Orient are 19th, seven points adrift of the Hatters.

Although he’d like to be higher and maintaining the two points per game ratio he targeted earlier in the campaign, Jones believes his team are decent position with just over a quarter of the season gone.

“I’m sitting here after 12 games, and I think we could be in a better position,” said Jones, who could throw fit-again centre-half Johnny Mullins and striker Craig Mackail-Smith, back available for the first time since breaking his leg in March, into the action at Brisbane Road. 

“We haven’t nicked results when we haven’t deserved them, but I think we’ve probably not got points when we did. Invariably, when we haven’t had a good performance, we haven’t picked up points. 

“On the whole I would say we are slightly behind. I think we’ve had a great start, had some good results, but we’ve spoken to the lads about refocusing now because we’ve had some great performances so far this season in terms of Plymouth, Villa, Wycombe, Leeds, Doncaster. These are fantastic performances where we’ve won games. 

“I think we are in a real strong position. God Willing, we’ve got no injuries, and it’s gone well. Maybe slightly more points would have been really satisfactory, but we are in a good place, the club is in a good place and we’ve bedded in some real good youngsters, so it’s looking healthy.”

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