ANDY Morrison believes teenager Shabir Khan will progress into a defensive gem if he avoids another injury-plagued campaign.

The highly-regarded 19-year-old has yet to play a single minute of first team football since player-manager Andy Preece took over the reigns in February.

Khan made just eight starts in Nationwide North last season until a troublesome groin injury forced him out of action for the remainder of the campaign.

But after seemingly recovered from his groin problem and currently in full pre-season training with the rest of City's squad, Khan is finally part of Preece's plans for the forthcoming 2005/06 campaign.

The St George's Lane club have high hopes for the academy graduate, who is comfortable at both centre-back and left-back.

City's head coach Morrison has monitored Khan's progress in training and believes he possesses enough natural ability to perform at a higher level in the future.

But the former Manchester City defender said the teenager needs to fight off injury for at least six months.

Morrison also insists the step-up from academy level to the senior team is a huge step, and has warned of the perils for youngsters hopeful of making the grade.

"Shabir has got all the attributes to play at a higher level," admits Morrison. "But he needs to stay clear of injuries for about six months and play regular football."

"He needs to become stronger and overcome the injury he's had. Then, hopefully, the potential that he has will come to fruition.

"Looking at the squad, there are three or four young players like Shabir that are coming through into the first team. We have a very thin squad and they will look for their chance.

"They are coming into the first-team and it's a different standard altogether. It's a huge difference."