Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe has backed academy graduate Jack Simpson for an imminent Premier League debut after he excelled in his first professional game.
The 20-year-old centre-back volleyed the opening goal, won a penalty for the second, and looked assured in defence as the Cherries progressed to the Carabao Cup quarter-finals with a 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough.
Simpson's composed performance at the Vitality Stadium has convinced Howe he is capable of making the transition to top-flight football, while injuries to Bournemouth defenders Tyrone Mings and Brad Smith could enhance his opportunities.
"He's close, when you look at the injuries to Tyrone and Brad, we are stretched," said Howe, whose side host champions Chelsea on Saturday.
"That was in my thought to give him an opportunity and see how he does when he's exposed to the competition and the pressure, how he's going to respond.
"Well, he responded really well, it's almost like his game stepped up a level with the better quality around him.
"A lot will depend on what happens with the guys' form who are playing at the moment, but he's close."
Simpson, who was narrowly off target with a first-half header, steered in Ryan Fraser's left-wing corner from close range early in the second period and was then pulled back by Dael Fry to win a 75th-minute penalty converted by Callum Wilson.
He was later named sponsors' man of the match and Howe - who also picked up the award on his playing debut for Bournemouth back in December 1995 - hopes that can help form an instant bond between the player and the Cherries fans.
"It did make a difference to me because it just meant you had a feeling you were liked and that's everything to a player, so hopefully that's the start of a good relationship between Jack and the supporters," Howe added, recalling his first-team debut.
"It's a great story; he scores, gets a penalty for us, it's a great night for him and one he'll always remember with his family, I'm sure.
"He's got a really nice mentality, very good attitude, he wasn't fazed at all."
After Simpson broke the deadlock, Bournemouth were briefly pegged back when Middlesbrough teenager Marcus Tavernier struck his first senior goal.
Boro boss Garry Monk has tipped his team to end their recent slump after being impressed with their performance on the south coast.
The Teessiders have endured an indifferent start to the Sky Bet Championship season following relegation and find themselves in 13th position on the back of a six-game winless run in all competitions.
"We've had criticism in recent weeks and quite rightly so, we haven't performed at the levels we know we're capable of," Monk said.
"Of course there are still more improvements but if we continue and we play like that going forward from this point there will be a lot of performances that we can be very happy with."