SOUTHEND United manager Phil Brown heaped praise on O’Shane Stewart after the young midfielder netted in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Dartford.

Stewart netted a well-struck shot from just outside the penalty area in the pre-season clash at Princes Park.

And Brown has been impressed by the 20-year-old who has yet to make a senior first team appearance.

“He bosses it and he doesn’t get phased by anything either,” said brown, “The opposition had an extra man in there and he’s learning the game.

“He got the goal but everyone is pushing and I don’t know my team yet.

“I know who my biggest and strongest players are but who knows at this moment in time what the team will be come August 21st.”

Brown is still looking to add to his squad before the National League season starts later this month.

And he remains hopeful Ricky Holmes – who came off the bench at Dartford – will soon be signing a new deal.

“I’m hoping Ricky is close and I want to sign him,” said Brown.

“As you saw he’s not really had a full pre-season but he affects the game because of his know-how.

“All I can do is put my case across to the owners and let them make the decision.”

But Brown’s squad has been further boosted by the return of both Nathan Ralph and Lewis Gard who have now recovered from long-term injuries.

“Nathan Ralph came on and he had a touch of the ball in competitive football for the first time in a long time,” said Brown.

“Ricky Holmes made reference to it in the huddle at the end of the game and about Lewis Gard too.

“They’ve been cleared by the medical people but truth be told I probably pinched 10 minutes today.

“Monday is the full contact date but when you see the smiles on their faces and their excitement it’s great but they’ve got to keep that now.”

Ralph and Gard had both been out since October after suffering cruciate ligament injuries.