STUART KETTLEWELL might not have been too impressed when questioned on reports of Max Johnston visiting Norwich City’s training ground last week, but there is no questioning the admiration the Motherwell manager holds for the Fir Park prospect.

That is shared not only among the various scouts who have been monitoring his progress of late, but also in the press boxes, with Johnston named yesterday as the Scottish Football Writer’s Association Young Player of the Year.

The wing-back sat out the 1-0 win over Ross County on Saturday through injury, a match that saw Kevin van Veen score for a ninth match in succession from a stoppage time penalty, a post-war club record. He is the first man to accomplish the feat in the Scottish top-flight since Celtic’s Mark Viduka 23 years ago.

READ MORE: Motherwell 1 Ross County 0: Van Veen and VAR conspire to down County

But while Van Veen has been grabbing most of the headlines of late, Johnston has also been a stand-out performer since he returned to Fir Park from a loan spell at Cove Rangers in January, with his award recognition of his own performances as well as Motherwell’s willingness to give a young player an extended run in their team.

“It’s an amazing accolade and he is thoroughly deserving of it in my opinion,” Kettlewell said.

“I saw a stat recently about the number of young players that get opportunities to play in Scotland under the age of 21, and I pay testament to the young lad Dylan Smith out there for Ross County [on Saturday] coming on at 16 years old.

“We had Lennon Miller coming on for us, James Furlong is 19, Max is 19, but there aren’t an awful lot of young boys playing a lot of football.

“I’m a huge believer in it. I think we have to get a balance in trying to produce our own players and filter them through, so I’m delighted that Max has got the award, but I’m also delighted that it shows that process to academy players that they can earn the right to play and the achievements that can come off the back of it.”

Motherwell may have to do without Johnston next season with so many suitors lining up with an eye on a summer swoop for the 19-year-old, but they managed fine at the weekend to extend their winning run to three matches.

Aside from Van Veen continuing his own scoring streak, the main talking points after the game centred around the intervention of VAR, first in overturning a penalty awarded to County by on-field referee Euan Anderson, and then in awarding that last-gasp spot-kick for the hosts after a Keith Watson handball.

County manager Malky Mackay was a picture of exasperation after the match, but both calls were correct by the letter of the law, as frustrating as the circumstances may have been. He saved his complaints though for the referee and the assembled media, while his message in the dressing room was all about clearing his players’ minds for their final two, critical matches over the next week.

County host St Johnstone – who are now safe - on Wednesday night, a fixture they will go into without Owura Edwards, who picked up two quickfire bookings at Fir Park after entering the fray as a 77th minute substitute.

They then have a final day showdown against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, and goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw says they must shake off their weekend disappointment quickly if they are going to save their skin.

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“You’re raging when you come in,” Laidlaw said. “But the manager has said that we need to forget about it and move on. It’s one of these things that happen in football.

“You saw [on Saturday] that everyone is fighting for the team and we’re doing everything we can to keep County in the Premiership. There are two big games to go and hopefully we can get the points we need to stay up.

“I don’t think we created too much but we defended well. We put boys on the line when we had to. It’s just unfortunate we gave away a penalty near the end and that’s what turned it for us.

“I saw it ricochet off both their hands but I couldn’t tell whose it hit first. Keith Watson has tried to get tight to (Jon) Obika. He’s not looking at the ball and it’s just bounced off his arm. There’s no intention to try to handball it. The ref has deemed it a penalty.

“We just need to lick our wounds, get on with it and dust ourselves down for Wednesday night because we’ve got another big game coming up.

“Kilmarnock and Dundee United are going to play each other on Wednesday night, so we’ll see what happens there. We need to take care of our own business and try to take three points at home. We’ll hopefully get a good crowd and get a result.”