NEIL Kilkenny was today backed to be a "star" by his team-mates after he made his league debut for Blues.
It was a match to remember in more ways than one for Kilkenny because of his sending-off that enabled Liverpool to equalise.
But the 19-year-old midfielder would not be affected by the mishap, said two of Blues' already established stars, Mario Melchiot and Mikael Forssell.
"I thought he was very, very good," said Melchiot, who revealed that Kilkenny's season-loan spell at Oldham Athletic last season was the making of him. "After Neil went on his loan I saw a different player come back to Birmingham.
"He's the sort of guy who really wants to be better, who really wants to progress - and he's going to do that. When he played like he did, in the middle of the park, it didn't look like his first game to be honest.
"Technically, he is very accomplished. I only hope that, because he is so very young, he doesn't let up. Everybody has moments like this in their career - I had them too - but it is important you keep going. You have to keep focused.
"But the way he is as a player, the way he is as a person, I have no doubts that if he keeps growing he has the definite possibility to be a star."
Manager Steve Bruce rejected more than 20 loan requests for Kilkenny before the transfer window closed.
He told him that he had broken into the first-team squad, but preached patience because of the standard of players ahead of him in the queue.
Kilkenny found that tough to take but, with a host of midfielders sidelined, the Bruce decided to give him his chance against the Reds.
No-one at Blues has doubted Kilkenny's ability in possession, his gift of seeing a pass and they have recognised his desire to get forward and threaten goal.
But they told him to work on his tackling and offthe-ball aspects of his game as to survive in a modern-era midfield you have to be powerfully combative.
Forssell, however, said Kilkenny's relative lack of physique or height - he's 5ft 8in tall - wouldn't count against him.
He said that the England under-20 call-up should look at Damien Johnson for proof of that.
"He might not be the biggest or tallest, but you have smaller players than him in the Premier League - Jonty, for example," said Forssell.
"The only thing you need is attitude. Neil Kilkenny is not like a stick. He can put himself about."
Forssell added: "I think he's a great player. He's got the ability and the mentality.
"He was very unlucky with his sending-off. He didn't deserve a red card for the way he played on Saturday and at Scunthorpe United.
"He will come back. These things happen. Look at Jonathan Woodgate, same thing."
Kilkenny's emergence will have given the rest of Blues' up-and-coming youth players cause for hope, said Melchiot. "The guy is young and it was a good sign for all the other young players at the club. It makes them believe.
"Neil has shown that if you have desire and faith in your own ability, then you can achieve."
It will be interesting to see now that Kilkenny has made the breakthrough how quickly Blues begin talks on a new contract.
His current deal is due to expire in the summer and he would like remain at St Andrew's.
He said: "I haven't spoken to the manager about it. Nothing's happened really.
"I would love to stay here, of course, given the choice. But I suppose it's down to the manager, where he sees me fitting in."