In Focus: Bright spark Evan can stake a claim for Ireland role
Evan Ferguson is enjoying a breakout season for Brighton.
The 18-year-old scored twice against Grimsby in the FA Cup on Sunday to set up a mouthwatering semi-final tie with Manchester United and is taking the Amex Stadium by storm with his ruthless finishing.
Seagulls manager Roberto De Zerbi has been unable to ignore his hottest prospect, who is already drawing comparisons with Tottenham talisman Harry Kane.
Breaking into the Republic of Ireland XI is next in his sights and manager Stephen Kenny has confirmed Ferguson will get his first international start against Latvia tonight.
Bursting onto the scene
Ferguson scored his first Premier League goal less than three months ago when he appeared as a substitute in Brighton's clash with Arsenal.
The youngster wrestled his way past the defensive efforts of William Saliba and onto a lofted through-ball to cooly slot between the legs of Aaron Ramsdale.
De Zerbi's Seagulls went on to lose that match but it was a sign of things to come from their 6ft 2in frontman, who has now netted three league goals and seven in all competitions.
Every one of Ferguson's strikes have come from inside the box, illustrating his ability to find pockets of space in tight areas and consistently get into good scoring positions.
He has also demonstrated a variety of finishes, scoring four times with his right foot, two with his left and registering one headed goal for the South Coast club.
Firing in the FA Cup
Ferguson's form has been particularly impressive in the FA Cup where he has scored three goals — one against Stoke and two in last weekend's quarter-final meeting with Grimsby.
The attacker's first goal against the Mariners was particularly eye-catching as he brought the ball down with aplomb before delicately curling it into the bottom-right corner.
His second was a display of ruthlessness — finishing powerfully just inside the near post for Brighton's third of the match.
It was a sensational performance by the Seagulls' No28, who thoroughly impressed former England international and Premier League star Danny Murphy.
He said: "This kid's a superstar, he's got great feet as you can see, how he brings that down [first goal], the technical ability, he's calm, powerful, plays the role really well.
"You don't see him out wide chasing lost causes. He stays central in there and he's always a target. I can't see a weakness in his game at the moment."
Not only is Ferguson a deadly marksman, he is also effective in possession and creates opportunities for his team-mates — a valuable trait for modern strikers.
He has registered two open-play assists in the Premier League this term, as well as creating four chances and completing 30 of his 40 passes into the attacking third.
Those attributes have led ex-Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given to compare the Bettystown native with Tottenham icon Kane.
He said: "He [Ferguson] is a No9, he can drop off into the No10 position, similar to Harry Kane with all of his brilliant positions.
"Stephen Kenny will be torn about 'should I start him or should I not?' I think the position we're in this year, we haven't got a lot of Premier League players.
"This guy, maybe going back to Robbie Keane when he was 17-18, where Mick McCarthy said 'just go and play!'"
Evan more to come
De Zerbi is understandably delighted with Ferguson's impact — but has highlighted how he could improve even further.
Speaking after the victory over Grimsby, the Seagulls chief said: "He [Ferguson] is a special striker.
"We are working to improve him not only as a striker but also his understanding of the play — when to receive the ball and attack the space — so he becomes a complete player.
"If you work with a clever guy like Evan it's nice because he understands exactly what you want and will improve day by day.
"He has goalscoring qualities, but he can arrive at a higher level. He has to learn to play like a midfielder when the play is away from the goal areas and like a striker in the last 20m."
The Republic of Ireland have a promising crop of young talent coming through the ranks — and Ferguson will be the first to stake his claim for the upcoming European Championship qualifiers.
Though Michael Obafemi and Troy Parrott have more experience for the Boys in Green, neither are currently lighting up the Championship.
That has opened up a spot for Brighton's sharpshooter, who manager Kenny is set to start against Latvia tonight.
Ahead of tonight's qualifying campaign opener, the Irish boss said: "His career is in its infancy but he's made a great start in the Premier League and scored some goals in the PL, FA Cup and League Cup.
"At 18 years of age he has shown that he's ready to come into the team.
"We've known about Evan for a few years now coming through the system in Ireland with Bohemians and through the underage international teams.
"He'll make his first start tomorrow night."
The European minnows have failed to keep a clean sheet in four of their previous five matches — a weak point that Ferguson will undoubtedly be eager to exploit.