KNOWING Stephen Welsh as he does after spending the first half of this season playing alongside him at Morton, John Sutton is certain that the unassuming 20-year-old won’t be getting carried away by his competitive debut for Celtic at the weekend.

Neither will Sutton be making any bold predictions about how far the young defender can go in the game after an impressive showing in the win over Hamilton, but he certainly wasn’t surprised in the slightest by how well Welsh handled the occasion.

Having grappled with some of the best defenders to have played in Scotland over his long career as a striker, Sutton knows enough about the qualities required to play in the backline for either side of the Old Firm, and Welsh certainly ticks more of those boxes than he doesn’t in the forward’s assessment.

If luck is where preparation meets opportunity, then Welsh’s grounding at Morton as well as his own hard work in training with Celtic ensured he was ready to make the most of the opening that came his way at the weekend, and Sutton thinks he can make the most of that break to become a Celtic regular.

“I don’t think you can ever really tell how far a player can go,” Sutton said.

“But he was really good when we had him at Morton. He’s quite tall, he’s not an absolute giant of a boy, but he’s got a good jump on him.

“Certainly, going up against him in training, he was very competitive, very strong. He’s quick, he’s certainly not slow, and playing against him every day, I was really impressed.

“He can give it out, he competes for everything, and when it doesn’t go his way, he takes that well too. He gets back up on his feet and he’s ready to go again.

“He’s still young, so you’d hope that he’ll still get a little bit quicker, a little bit stronger, be able to jump a little bit higher. The more he plays first-team football, the more experience he is going to get too.

“The other thing I would say is that from day one, he was very good on the ball when it came to his long passing and short passing, and his attitude was excellent.

“It’s very tricky when you’re talking about Celtic and Rangers, because we play against their reserve teams and there are plenty of good players there.

“There are so many factors involved. If Celtic hadn’t had so many injuries, we probably wouldn’t be talking now about it. There are so many variables, but certainly, there is a very good player there, and sometimes you just need a break.

“He has had one, and hopefully that will send him on his way to become a regular at Celtic first and foremost.

“I saw bits of the Hamilton game and it wasn’t really a surprise to see him make the step up and do so well and look so comfortable.”

When trying to establish yourself at Celtic, footballing ability is only half the battle. Sutton thinks though that Welsh also has the strength of character that comes with the scrutiny of playing for such a big club.

“He appeared to have that mentality when he was with us,” he said. “It was his first proper foray into men’s football, and he acquitted himself very well. He took it all in his stride and he’s got all the attributes.

“If you ask anyone at Morton, they will tell you that he settled in very quickly, and you certainly wouldn’t regard him as a young boy as such.

“I wouldn’t say he was at either end of the spectrum in terms of his personality. He wasn’t really loud like a Paul Gascoigne character or anything like that, but he wasn’t quiet either.

“I got on well with him and I think all of the boys did, I doubt that anybody at the club would have a bad word to say about him. He’s a really good guy and he was a pleasure to have about the place.

“He was good to talk to a lot of the time, and all the players were talking about him at training on Monday. Everyone was absolutely delighted for him that he has gone in there and has done so well.”

If Welsh does indeed go on to become a regular for Celtic, Sutton won’t be claiming any of the credit, being modest about the education going up against such an experienced professional like himself every day in training would have had on the youngster.

But he will be delighted if Morton as a whole have played a part in preparing him for a career at the top level.

“Hopefully the time he spent with us has given him something a little bit different to what he might have experienced at Celtic and has strengthened his game a little bit,” he said.

“Playing in games against him, the ball used to get launched up in the air and you would grapple with each other, and you could tell straight away that he could handle himself.

“That’s probably the best way to learn. You can talk about things all you want, but going out there and experiencing it, especially in a match on a Saturday, is invaluable.

“Stephen has certainly done that, and hopefully it has made him a better player.

“He’s a Celtic player and he’s come through the system there, so he must be absolutely delighted to have gone back there and been able to play.

“Hopefully he can stay around the first team now and kick on from there.”