Justin Walker has praised the character of his Derby County Under-18 side after they picked up their first win of the season against Middlesbrough at the Moor Farm Training Centre.
After a run of bad results, Walker’s side were 4-1 victors and put their first points on the Premier League- North board. First, he highlighted the team’s ethic and application in the days leading up to the fixture.
He said: “I am delighted with the performance levels of the team and have been all week and it showed today. We’ve had some disappointments over the last four weeks but today was very different and that’s because the lads have kept going and kept believing.
“They’ve stuck by what we’ve been trying to do on the training ground and their application has improved massively and they got their reward today and I couldn’t be happier for them.”
The results, over the past few weeks, have been tough to take for Walker and his side. The manager has highlighted the loss to West Bromwich Albion as a particular turning point for his side.
“We haven’t been at our best in training or on the pitch in the last few weeks and the results have been disappointing.” Walker continued, “I think we started well enough against Everton, but the real turning point was here against West Brom a couple of weeks ago.
“Me and the lads had some honest conversations after that game, and we are now better for it. The lads have shown some real character to take that defeat – and the conversations we’ve had – and use it to improve their performance levels and it showed today.”
In the match itself, Walker switched from a 4-3-3 to a flatter 4-4-2 and opted to play two strikers in the form of Jack Stretton and Bartosz Cybulski, who both performed well.
“I just tried to maximise all the quality we have in the squad and that meant me switching to two strikers,” said Walker, commenting on the switch in style. “Of course, I knew that we needed to score more goals and having two guys up-front always gives you a better chance of doing that.
“It was a good challenge for the team today, to adapt to playing in a new system and I think they did a great job with it. In fact, I think we could have scored more goals with the chances we created today so we will look at that too.”
After their first win, Derby would have loved to continue this momentum immediately going into the next game, but they will have to wait. Their next game comes in two weeks’ time, which Walker claims will give him and his side chance to discuss their start to the new campaign.
He said: “Listen, we will continue with the work we have been doing and the week’s break won’t change that. Like you say, the break has probably come at the wrong time for us, considering we have only just earned our first win, but that doesn’t mean we won’t continue working hard.
“It will give us time to properly reflect on everything that’s happened over the past few weeks and that will be good for us. We need that. After it though, we need to take this opportunity to try and put some consistency together because it has been a very inconsistent period so far. Hopefully this win is the start of things to come.”
Finally, Walker took the time to congratulate his team and express his delight with the hard work they have shown.
“Today will be a good feeling for the lads. To know that the hard work they put in throughout the week has paid off will hopefully give us a massive boost and they should be proud of themselves today,” concluded Walker.
Words by: Joseph Lightfoot