WILL Hughes had Derby County supporters on their feet at the iPro Stadium on Monday night, just as he did three years earlier when he made his full debut for the Rams.
The 20-year-old received the Supporters Clubs' Player of the Year award and has developed into one of the country's leading young midfielders. A success story for the club and their Academy.
On April 28, 2012, Hughes lined up against Peterborough United. He had made a brief debut as a substitute against the same opponents earlier in the season but this time he was starting – and on merit.
A crowd of more than 27,000 was treated to a glimpse of the future. A first-year scholar at the time, Hughes produced one of the most competent full debuts seen from a young Derby player in years.
At 17, he handled his big moment with impressive composure and displayed touch, control and vision, the traits we are now familiar with after 136 senior games.
The fans quickly warmed to him, and he remains a firm favourite.
It is no surprise to see Hughes and top scorer Chris Martin vying for the various player-of-the-year awards.
No player has been more consistent than Hughes, no player has been more important to the team than Martin although he has been sidelined for much of the past two months. Splitting the two at awards time is difficult, although I wrote two weeks ago that Martin was my choice as player of the year.
I say that because he was the one player Derby could ill-afford to be without and everybody knew it.
The hamstring problem picked up at Bournemouth in February has played a major part in derailing Derby's bid for automatic promotion.
They had lost only once in eight League matches at the time and sat joint top with Bournemouth on 57 points.
Wthout him, they have been unable to control matches as they would like and his influence on the side, along with that of a controlling midfielder, has been obvious.
If a player has been missed so much – as head coach Steve McClaren, his coaches and team-mates have stressed constantly – then surely he has to be player of the year.
Martin has still played 41 games this season and scored 21 goals.
Having said that, Hughes is a very worthy winner of the Supporters' Clubs' prize and any other awards he might collect this season.
I have followed his career closely since he was 15. He is a 'footballer' in the true sense of the word. His calmness in possession coupled with his balance, awareness and quality – all within the hurly burly of the Championship – is often a joy to watch.
He was delighted to receive the award on Monday night. "I am very grateful to be voted for by the fans that come to watch us week in, week out. It means the world to me," he said.
"Having come through the Academy system and then claim this award is fantastic. My dream was always to break into the first team and I've played over 130 times already for Derby.
"When I broke into the team at 17, I never dreamed I would be pretty much a regular from that stage. I thought I would play a few games and see how things went.
"I have stayed in the team for the majority of the time and I've enjoyed every single second of playing.
"I feel I have been a bit more consistent this season. I feel I am improving with each season but I am aware that I still have a lot to learn."