Brighton and Hove Albion boss Graham Potter has promised to handle Republic of Ireland striker Aaron Connolly with care to maximise the Galway teenager's "unique attributes".

Connolly, 19, has had a breakthrough campaign at the Seagulls, excelling after stepping up to the first team from the Under-23s and subsequently forcing his way into Mick McCarthy's senior Ireland side.

Connolly well and truly announced himself to the Premier League with a memorable brace against Tottenham back in October, and though he has failed to find the net since, Potter has been blown away the teenager's overall contribution.

"We must remember that he’s still only 19 years old, he’s learning the game and learning how to be a Premier League footballer," the manager told the club's website when explaining why Connolly was left out of the squad for last week's 1-0 defeat to Everton.

"That’s just a natural process, because this time last year he was playing in the Under-23s.

"He’s taken a step up to play in the most competitive league in the world so it’s probably a bit unfair for us to just expect him to be available for every single minute.

"We need to help him improve and be a better player and professional, but his attributes are unique and he brings something different. I don’t think we have anyone else like him in the group." 

Brighton host Aston Villa on Saturday, with Connolly expected to come back into the frame.

Potter's men are only three points ahead of Villa, who are 18th in the table and heading for the Amex off the back of last weekend's 6-1 thumping at the hands of Manchester City.

"They played the champions and that type of result can happen," added Potter.

"They had some good results before that, so we know they'll want to respond to last Sunday.

"We know we have to attack and defend well. They’ve moved to a back five recently and that can mean it’s sometimes tough to create chances. They have good players and when you lose the ball they can hurt you, that’s just the nature of the Premier League and so we have to be on our game to get a result."