Oxford bags teenage hero status for happy Hammers

LONDON: West Ham United's Reece Oxford reckoned he had enjoyed "a dream debut" after becoming, at 16, one of the youngest players ever to make a winning bow in the Premier League.

The teenage midfielder, rated one of the best prospects in England, had a splendid game in midfield as West Ham earned a surprise opening weekend victory at Arsenal.

The gangly Oxford, who has already captained the England Under 17s, was entrusted with a starting place as a defensive midfielder by the Hammers' new manager Slaven Bilic.

And the Croatian was rewarded for his faith with an exceptional display by the youngster who helped nullify Arsenal's star-studded engine room.

"Put it this way," said Bilic, a hard-bitten former international. "If Messi was in front of me, I would be more fazed than Reece!"

Oxford was so impressive that his experienced team mate, New Zealand international Winston Reid, could only smile as he told Sky Sports: "He's been brilliant. He's only 16 but, I mean, look at him, he's bigger than me and probably better than me!"

One distinguished Sky pundit, former Scottish international Graeme Souness, enthused: "He was fabulous and for a 16-year-old his performance borderered on the ridiculous."

Oxford is not the youngest Premier League debutant at 16 years 236 days. That was Matthew Briggs, who was 68 days beyond his 16th birthday when he played for Fulham at Middlesbrough in 2007.

England international Aaron Lennon, at 16 years 128 days, was the youngest to make a winning debut when Tottenham Hotspur beat Leeds in 2003.

After barely misplacing a pass and earning the free kick from which West Ham went ahead, Oxford, who was given a standing ovation after being replaced in the 79th minute, could barely stop smiling.

"It was a dream debut," he said. "It's an honour really to play for West Ham and be their youngest player. I found out yesterday night (that he was playing) and I was obviously happy."

Oxford is a fine defender but Bilic was confident to let him patrol World Cup winner Mesut Ozil and co in midfield.

"It was going to be a risk but he has got something," said Bilic. "I thought we need someone to sit in front of the defence who is cool and can be a third defender, but who can also play on the ball. I am very proud of him.