Tommy Elphick took Dan Batty to one side at Hull City’s training ground last month to deliver a clear message to his rookie team-mate.
“I tried to tell him that he’s one of the best young midfielders I’ve played with,” said Elphick “ I hope he believes it because he could have a top, top career.”
Batty smiled bashfully when reminded of the defender’s lavish praise but you sense the penny has dropped ahead of his 21st birthday on Monday.
City’s promising midfielder is enjoying quite the breakthrough season. Fifteen appearances have emphatically demonstrated Batty can hold his own in the Championship and his recall away to QPR last weekend underlined Nigel Adkins’ unwavering trust.
Kevin Stewart might have been retained as City’s holding midfielder after his combative display in the 0-0 draw with Norwich but instead Batty was ushered straight back in after overcoming a minor injury.
Football moves on quickly and a youngster who only made his Championship debut on the final day of last season is now very much a mainstay.
“I’m feeling good,” said Batty, who has been on City’s books since the age of 16.
“As the games have gone I’ve progressed, become more confident and more reliable. The manager can put more trust in me.
“I’d like to think I’m proving myself. I train every week and put a shift in. Hopefully people see that.”
Elphick certainly does.
“I’ve heard about the comments,” added Batty. “It’s nice to hear from another player, especially one like Tommy.
“It’s a great confidence boost for me. It’s amazing. I don’t know how many games he’s played and how many clubs he’s been at but for a senior pro to be saying that is special.”
It was this time last year that Batty had just finished a loan spell in the National League with Halifax.
Five appearances and two goals were noted with interest by Adkins upon his arrival last December and ever since Batty has trained with City’s first team squad.
This afternoon’s trip to Millwall will bring up 20 appearances for the Tigers but it might have been plenty more if not for a series of setbacks this season. Three times Batty has been forced to sit out games with minor injuries as he gets up to speed with the demands of the Championship.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “I keep getting a little niggle that puts me out of a game. It’s not nice because you want to be involved in all of them. To stop the little injuries would be great.
“I wouldn’t say it’s my body getting used to the Championship, it’s more a case of me putting my body in the wrong areas.
“I get little knocks and kicks, stuff like that. It’s going to happen so I can’t complain.”
Batty can expect to be part of an increasingly dependable midfield trio at Millwall. Alongside captain Markus Henriksen, who he credits for his rapid development, and Jackson Irvine, Batty helps to form a balanced unit.
“We’re a lot stronger now,” said the 20-year-old. “We’re understanding each other a lot more. Especially coming forward and keeping a compact shape. We’re feeling a lot more structured.
“Coming in at the start of the season it was like a bright start again. It was a fresh team so we all had to gel together again and get another bond. We had to work out what we could do with each other.
“You get used to each other. We know what we like to do so we’re able to push forward and do our own little thing as well as for the team.”
And where does Batty see himself dovetailing with the two internationals? “I like to sit there and let them push forward a little bit more than me.
“I try to give the back four a bit of structure and hopefully not get caught as many times on the counter attack.”
Whether it is down to a shored up defence, a tightened midfield or a more prolific attack, City have certainly shown signs that a troubled season is being hauled back on track.
Improvements were noticeable before a much-needed win arrived at Bolton in late November and it is now one defeat and 11 points from a six-game run.
The reward was a climb out of the Championship’s relegation zone when winning 3-2 at QPR last weekend, lifting Adkins’ men up to 19th in the table ahead of travelling to Millwall.
The Lions could quickly leapfrog City once more if they can bring an end to their own struggles but Batty insists he has never doubted the Tigers’ buoyancy.
“I was fine about it all because I know we’ve got a good team that can progress. I wasn’t really worried,” he said.
“We’ve just to keep building on what we’ve done. The last five or six games we’ve been doing all right so we just need to keep it going and climb up the table.
“We’ve got teams around us coming up which can help but they’ll be different games playing teams lower down. It’s more physical, more long balls.
“We know Millwall are a physical, strong side, that likes the competitive side of the game. We know we’ve got to at least match that. Hopefully we can hurt them. I like a good little battle.”