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Lewis Neilson admits he had some tough moments this season waiting for his chance in the Dundee United team but the 18-year-old is allowing himself happier thoughts of looking ahead to potential European football.

The centre-back burst into the first team at the start of last season and played 20 times in his breakthrough campaign, although half of those games were on loan with Falkirk.

Neilson also played in three of United’s Premier Sports Cup group stage ties this season but has had to be patient since then, making only four league appearances before last weekend.

But the defender came in for United’s crucial encounter with Motherwell and helped his team to a 1-0 win that puts them in a commanding position for a Europa Conference League place ahead of Sunday’s trip to Ibrox.

“I think that’s something that’s on everyone’s minds just now even if they don’t admit it,” Neilson said.

“That would be a great feeling to go to European football, that’s every boy’s dream growing up.

“Eventually you would hope to play Champions League but just now at 18 years old I would love to be playing European football.”

Neilson has had to maintain perspective at times when not getting selected.

“Sometimes it’s tough but I enjoy coming into training every day,” he said.

“I still need to remind myself I am only 18. I’m a centre-half and centre-halves usually do come in a wee bit later.

“I just keep the head down and focus. I set myself goals so no matter what age I am I always want to be pushing on and just now that’s getting into the first team and playing more games.

“I was glad to be able to come back into the team and help them out.

“I have been training really hard. I have not had many games this season so to come back in the team and keep a clean sheet, I was really happy with that, and hopefully I have done enough to keep my place for Sunday.

“It’s not easy coming into a game after you have not played for a few months so if I can get a run of games I will be able to show my true potential.”

Neilson was one of three United youth academy graduates to start against Motherwell and one of 16 to have played under Tam Courts in the first team during the season.

“I have only played a few games this season but one of them came against Celtic, so he is happy to chuck you into the big games,” Neilson said.

“Dundee United is a great club to be at just now as a young boy. The numbers this season show how many academy graduates play games.

“It’s an incredible feeling for the young boys knowing that there is a chance if you are training well.”

United face the Europa League finalists with confidence after taking four points off Rangers this season.

“We will always back ourselves no matter who we are playing so the points are up for grabs,” Neilson said.