Phillip Cocu was full of praise for his Derby County players following their 2-1 victory over Charlton Athletic – despite playing over three quarters of the 90 minutes with ten men.
Youngster Jason Knight scored his first-ever career goal early on with a close-range header to get Derby off to a dream start in their final game of 2019.
Cocu’s side were dealt a blow after 17 minutes when Krystian Bielik saw red after a late challenge on Conor Gallagher, but they stepped up to the plate and produced a fine display.
Knight got his and Derby’s second after 77 minutes with a fine left-foot finish from fellow Academy graduate Max Bird’s cross from the left.
Lyle Taylor’s penalty with seven minutes remaining set up a nervy finish, but the Rams stood firm and saw the game out to end a run of seven games without a win in the Sky Bet Championship.
Cocu was keen to heap praise on his players and was particularly delighted to see a player from the club’s Academy be the match-winner in such an important fixture.
Speaking to RamsTV after the game, Cocu said: “I think it was a great way to finish this year. The team put on a great performance tonight in the way we played football.
“We started the game with great team spirit and then with ten men, in a difficult situation, we still found a way to be in good positions in the final third and we defended well too.
“We gave all we have got to for fans and for a young player at the age of 18 to score both goals, that is extra pleasing for us today. A player from our own Academy getting Man of the Match and two goals is a great feeling.
“The win was needed, and everybody knew it. We have seen a change in the last couple of games in how the team reacts, how they perform together and that is something we have to keep in the team going into 2020.”
He added: “We stepped up; with one less player you have to do even more but you also have to be very disciplined in your tactics.
“The players did a great job, like they did at Reading where we were close recently, but we just couldn’t score the goals. Now we did. You can see the difference at 2-0 up; we were unlucky with the penalty which Charlton got late on, but I thought we played a great game today.”
While not one to highlight individuals, Cocu was keen to point out Knight’s contribution.
The Republic of Ireland Under-21 international has been one of Derby’s most impressive performances in recent weeks.
Cocu said: “If you only talk about the two goals he scored tonight it wouldn’t be fair because of how he played both tonight and in recent games.
“Sometimes he has to play on the right, sometimes in the midfield and sometimes on the left. Tactically he does things right for the team and he is a real team player. I just enjoy watching him work and play football.
“It doesn’t matter if it is training, afternoon sessions or a game; it is always a hundred per cent effort. He is a quality player, important for the team with his goals and his work rate.”