Justin Walker couldn’t wipe the smile off his face after seeing Derby County’s Under-19s reach the last 16 of the UEFA Youth League Play-Offs in emphatic style.
Walker’s history-making side claimed a deserved 3-1 victory over German giants Borussia Dortmund at Pride Park Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
Eiran Cashin, Jordan Brown and Louie Sibley got the goals in an action-packed second half to secure their passage into the latter stages of the competition.
It wasn’t a fluke either and the Rams were full value for their win on a bitterly cold afternoon in Derbyshire.
Derby’s youngsters achieved European qualification after claiming the Under-18 Premier League National title last season.
They finished top of Under-18 Premier League North to set up a National Final against Arsenal last May, with Walker’s side running out 5-2 winners.
However, their thirst for more success and desire to not rest on their laurels is clear to see.
After defeating FC Minsk and IA Akranes in the early rounds, Derby’s youngsters find themselves in the pot for Friday’s last 16 draw alongside some of the biggest names in world football.
“I’m thrilled to bits and so proud of this group of players,” Walker, Derby's Professional Development Phase Coach, told RamsTV after the game.
“We had a brilliant two days preparing for the game and it couldn’t have gone any better for us. We prepared well, had a game plan and had full belief in it. We executed it perfectly and now we are in the last 16, which is fantastic.
“We grew into the game and in the end I think we were deserved winners. We’ve been on a journey for something like 12 months now with this group.
“The achievements of the players last year were outstanding. We’ve implemented the system with the players that we’ve got and, after winning the title last year, we’ve just beaten one of the best young sides in Europe.”
He added: “The players have confidence and that is the characters and personalities that we have.
“They are a credit to themselves and I love working with them. They are engaged, want to learn, challenge things and don’t accept being mediocre.”
While Derby fully deserved their win, they didn’t have it all their own way during the 90 minutes.
Walker felt the Rams stepped up in the big moments and believed going into the game that his side had the ability to cause the German outfit problems.
“We had to ride our luck at times, which is understandable as you never have it your own way, but we had some big moments in the game,” he said.
“We did our homework and believed we could hurt them in certain situations.
“The players drive each other on and I actually quite like watching us under pressure because it helps show us that they are ready to make the next step.
“We’re thrilled to win 3-1 against a side which are one of the best in Europe at their level.”