Manager Phillip Cocu could not hide his smile at full time as Derby County kicked off their 2019/20 Sky Bet Championship campaign with a 2-1 win against Huddersfield Town.
An early brace from Tom Lawrence, his second a stunning effort from 18 yards out three minutes after opening the scoring, secured the Rams all three points at the John Smith’s Stadium.
A Karlan Grant penalty saw the Terriers pull a goal back before half-time, however, the Rams stood firm and defended resolutely in order to grind out a valuable three points in Cocu’s first game in charge.
“I’m extremely happy for the players and the team because I think we played a very good game in a difficult away game,” he told RamsTV.
“Both showed good quality of football and also good character. We needed it towards the end of the game. It was a good game.
“The team showed that they wanted to do everything to show the fans that they are proud to play for Derby County, and they did. It was a deserved win in the end.”
The brace for Lawrence was just rewards for his fine all round performance.
The winger was in fine form for the Rams and he was on hand to seize on an opportunity for the first goal following a defensive mistake by the hosts, while his second was a sublime moment of brilliance.
“They were fantastic goals,” admitted the manager. “He is a very important player for us, not only by creating and scoring but the defensive part of the job he does well for the team.
“He knows to create overload when we need it and I’m glad for him personally. He scored two great goals and it’s a fantastic start for the season for Tom.
“I’ve not spoken about the past because you have to look forward. I see a really quality player. On certain aspects he can improve.
“These are the things I like to talk with the player about, his personal goals and his motivation to get better and he is an ambitious player.
“He wants to do a job for the team and it’s a perfect combination so we have to be glad he’s playing for our team.”
Central defender Matt Clarke earned plaudits for his performance on his debut..
The 22-year-old showed glimpses of what we can expect over the season after joining on a season-long loan deal from Brighton & Hove Albion and the manager was pleased with his contribution.
“I think he did a good job,” Cocu commented. “It’s not easy just after a few sessions of training but I had a chat with him and the best way to come into the team and be comfortable is to just start playing.
“It’s not a complicated way we want to play. I didn’t give him too many assignments but only to focus on the defensive part and try to play a passing game and he did that job.”
The manager reserved a special word for youngster Jason Knight, who became the latest Academy player to make his competitive debut for the Rams.
He came on as a late substitution, replacing Kieran Dowell.
“That’s always a special moment, not only for himself, but it’s something that the club has to be proud of when an Academy player comes in,” Cocu said.