MANAGER Eddie Howe remained confident defender Lloyd Kelly could “make a difference” for Cherries and added: “He’s got real potential to go right to the top.”

The talented 21-year-old, signed from Bristol City for £13million in May last year, is yet to kick a ball in the Premier League after luckless injury problems have hampered his campaign.

Kelly picked up an ankle problem during pre-season and, having recovered from that, has since been dealing with a thigh complaint since November.

He has featured in the Carabao Cup, Premier League Cup and Hampshire Senior Cup, but having been an unused substitute on five occasions, is yet to play at England’s elite level.

Full-back Kelly was this week filmed alongside his team-mates in training, as he hopes to play a part in the business end of Cherries’ quest to beat the drop.

And manager Howe urged the England under-21 international to stay “very calm” in a bid to make his return.

Asked how Kelly was dealing mentally with his injury-hit campaign, he told the Daily Echo: “I think he’s handled himself really well. He’s a very mature character for his age.

“He is someone who is quite a deep thinker about the game, very serious about his career. He is very driven to do well but in a really good way. Naturally, of course, he is disappointed. He’s been frustrated, loads of different emotions because he wants to show how good he is. He wants to perform at the very highest level.

“I think he can make a difference as well. I think he’s got real potential to go right to the top.

“It has been a difficult start but sometimes in adversity, initially, a lot of strength can grow from that.

“I don’t think it will knock him long-term but certainly it’s frustrating in the short-term.”

Bristol-born defender Kelly played 32 times in the Championship for Bristol City last season.

He was linked with a move to Liverpool before his arrival at the Dorset club - the side Howe’s men visit in the Premier League on Saturday.

Asked how important it was for Kelly to look at the big picture, Howe said: “I think it’s important he stays very calm because there’s nothing you can do about this.

“The first injury he got, there was nothing he could do about it.

“Then he was unfortunate to pick up a couple of muscle strains and they happen from time-to-time. He just has to deal with it, it’s what happens with injuries.

“He is an unbelievable specimen physically. He’s got all the tools to be a real player at this level. It’s just a case that he is going to have to be patient to show that.”

Howe himself suffered injury issues after signing for a new club, when he joined Portsmouth under Harry Redknapp for £400,000 in 2002. He made just two appearances for Pompey but sustained a serious knee injury.

“When you join a new club you are desperate to show why you were signed and you are desperate to repay the faith of the people that signed you,” the Cherries boss added.

“That was certainly my emotions. I wanted to repay Harry and show him I was worth the money he paid.

“I think there’s a feeling that, because you are not known by everybody really – and you haven’t been able to show your worth on the pitch – then you can be easily forgotten.

“That’s how it is in football, if you are not on the pitch. You can be seen as not important – through no-one’s fault, that’s just how it is.

“I think Lloyd will probably have some of those emotions, maybe not all of the ones I had but some of them.

“But I think he is a lot younger than I was and his injuries haven’t been career-threatening.

“He is in a very good place to use this time to make him stronger and better for when he does come back.”