Justin Walker’s smile from Tuesday night’s UEFA Youth League victory over Borussia Dortmund hasn’t faded. In fact, if possible, it has grown even wider after their emphatic 4-1 win over Everton at the Moor Farm Training Centre.
His delight was there for all to see as he, without even being questioned, began praising his young set of players.
Before the recording could even begin, he couldn’t contain his appreciation for what his side achieved on and off the pitch this week.
He started: “They never fail to surprise me, this group. How good were we today? Everton are a fantastic academy side and one that have always given us a tough challenge, so to get a result like we did today fills me with happiness.
“I am so proud of this group of players after the week we’ve had. The character we showed was unbelievable. To come back from a goal down and respond so quickly just shows how determined these lads are.”
It was a result that Walker believes was totally deserved, feeling that the visitors’ goal was against the run of play in a game his side, otherwise dominated.
“I think their goal was totally against the run of play but that’s football,” said the under-18s manager. “We want our players to play a certain way and there are always going to be mistakes with that. How they manage that is the most important thing and today they couldn’t have handled it any better.
“I thought we dominated the game physically, mentally and in terms of overall quality from start to finish today. We showed so much courage.”
Asked about any standout individual performances, Walker smiled, brought his finger to his chin and tried to think of any… too many to pick from in his eyes.
“Archie [Brown], Cash [Eiran], Jack Rogers, Jack Stretton and Tyree Wilson – it was great to see him get a goal – but I mean take your pick. They were all excellent today. I can’t sit here and say that one was better than the other because that was a real team performance out there and they were all brilliant,” continued Walker.
Several players from the win were also in action in that European victory at Pride Park managed by Walker. He talked about that experience and how the quick turnaround had no effect on his players.
He stated: “We allowed ourselves to enjoy that moment. That was a huge win for everyone at this football club but especially for those young players out there. You know, there were players in that game who worked their socks off and have proven that they have the quality and ambition to play equally as well and work equally as hard today, just four days later.”
Finally, the side next face a long trip up north to the red side of Manchester. It is yet another test Walker is ready for and feels his players will be well prepared for.
“We go again. Same commitment. Same worth ethic. Same application. We pride ourselves on those things and nothing will change ahead of that game. The lads all now know what is expected of them by now and we will make sure we head up there as prepared as we can possibly be,” finished Walker.
Words by Joseph Lightfoot