Exceptional. Excellent. Brilliant. These were just a few of the many words Justin Walker used to describe his Derby County Under-18 team after they travelled to West Bromwich Albion and returned home with all three points after a 4-2 victory.
The manager started by commending how well the players have dealt with a demanding week to say the least.
He started: “I am delighted for all of the lads today. It has been a tough week but we have worked through it and the boys have responded brilliantly to everything we have thrown at them in today’s game.”
Derby’s return from their mini winter break ended in disappointment at Pride Park earlier this week after they were beaten 2-1 and knocked out of the FA Youth Cup. The character, Walker claims, to come back from a setback like that was what impressed him more than anything.
“You need to make changes in youth football. Anyone can have a blip and ours was earlier this week but I very rarely use that term when describing this group of players; they work tirelessly.
“They are just such an excellent group of players to work with and the character they show week on week makes me really pleased. To put in a performance like that after the defeat to Brighton should show anyone the kind of attitude these boys have. It was brilliant to see today.”
One notable change that Walker implemented from the midweek game was his bold decision to transform attacker and club joint top scorer into a central defender. Archie Brown endured a full 90 minutes in a position he has never played before and impressed his manager.
“We have had a lot of discussions amongst the coaches, with Archie himself and some of the first-team coaches and the club are always trying to look for new opportunities and this is a potential one.
“At youth football you have to be open-minded about challenging the players and trying them in different positions and I think he did really well today for his first outing as a defender. There was a huge smile on his face when he saw the team today and that’s a testament to his attitude.”
Nevertheless, the standout performer of the match undoubtedly went to Tyree Wilson. The winger contributed to three of Derby’s four goals, scoring two and recording one assist, prompting Walker to take the time to praise his match-winning performance.
“Tyree was the best player on the pitch today by a long way. Now, though, he’s got to try and make these types of performances more frequent and become a more consistent player.
“I’m delighted to see him get amongst the goals and I just hope that gives him the confidence he needs to keep going. He will be a huge asset to us for the rest of the season if he does.”
Derby have a lengthy trip up north to Middlesbrough in a week’s time. It will be the third meeting between the two sides this season. The record currently stands at one each and Walker has urged his team to stick to the basics ahead of the contest.
“We have to go back to basics again in preparation for that game. We pride ourselves on the non-negotiables and that gets us so far... then it’s about the quality of these exceptional players which we all know they have.”
Words by Joseph Lightfoot