Walsall boss Dean Smith today predicted a bright future for Paul Downing and conceded Walsall may struggle to hold on to the defender further down the line.
The 21-year-old centre-back is a standout performer for the Saddlers. He recently signed a new two-year deal.
Smith believes the former Albion youngster is destined to play at a higher level.
He said: “Paul definitely has a bright future. I’m glad he accepted the offer of a contract because I’m sure there will be people knocking on the door for him soon, such is his rising stature in the game.”
“I’m really pleased his short term future is with us because I believe he is good enough to move up the leagues for certain.”
Downing has made just 36 appearances since arriving at the Banks’s in the summer of 2012 but has been a regular alongside skipper Andy Butler at the back since the midway point of last season.
His growing maturity was yet again in evidence last Saturday when he stepped up to the plate following the captain’s early dismissal at Leyton Orient, marshalling the backline as the Saddlers became the first team to take points off the league leaders this season.
Smith believes Downing’s calm character is one of his best attributes and says he will only improve with more games under his belt.
“Paul has put in some really mature performances and is getting better and better as a player,” said Smith.
“He is well-liked around the place, he’s got an opinion, he doesn’t say loads but when he does other people listen to him.
“He’s a great character to have around and when the skipper got sent off he stepped up to the plate, that is for sure.”