Lee Johnson explains Dan Neil's situation after midfielder's superb start to the season
Lee Johnson has vowed to protect Dan Neil this season after the midfielder's breakthrough campaign continued in fine style at Lincoln City.
Neil had dropped to the bench for the previous two league fixtures but took the captain's armband at the LNER Stadium and delivered one of his best performances yet, scoring a stunning half-volley less than two minutes in the contest.
The 19-year-old admitted in the aftermath of that win that he had been disappointed to miss out at Fratton Park days previous, but said he had been thrilled with his exposure to the first-team group through the season so far.
Only Luke O'Nien has played more minutes across all competitions than Neil, who also played the most minutes of any player through the pre-season campaign.
He is now closing in on 1,500 minutes in total, a major step forward in his development.
"We've got to be sensible with Dan," Johnson said.
"Not just him, but the likes of Callum Doyle, Dennis Cirkin, Niall Huggins.
"You heard Gareth Southgate talking about this recently with Mason Greenwood and Jude Bellingham, protecting these young players and managing their workloads.
"It's the same with our kids who are at a similar age.
"You've got to get a balance.
"Dan wants to play every game and rightly so, and so it's up to me to manage it.
"I really don't think he'll be moaning about the amount of minutes he's had this season."
Johnson says other clubs will be taking note of his development and says the midfielder still has plenty of improving to do.
"There's no limit for Dan in terms of his technical ability," he said.
"We've worked on his physicality and that sort of burst over the first five or six yards, and I think that's added another dimension to his game this season.
"If anyone was here tonight, and I'm sure there will have been, they will absolutely have been writing down in their notepad to keep an eye on Dan Neil.
"He's still got a lot to prove and learn, but he's on a really nice trajectory in terms of his pathway and how he's improving as a player."