Steve Bruce has admitted he should have dropped Sunderland youngster Jordan Henderson sooner.
The 20-year-old midfielder was the Black Cats' only ever-present in the Premier League this season until being dropped for Saturday's 3-2 home defeat by West Brom.
Henderson earned an England debut back in November in the friendly against France but his form has dipped since.
The Academy product, born in Sunderland, came under criticism from a small section of the club's fans following last week's 5-0 defeat at Manchester City.
But Bruce is confident the youngster will learn from being left out and the Black Cats boss is keen to nurture his talent.
"I feel I have to protect Jordan," he told the Times. "I find it staggering that he bore the brunt after last week.
"He is only a young boy, but an exceptional talent and arguably as good a young player this club has seen for a long, long time.
"I probably left him in too long, but I have no doubts that Jordan will be bigger and better for it because that is the kind of character he is. He has a big part to play."