Krystian Bielik could not hide his delight after making another significant step in his comeback from a long-term knee injury on Friday.
The Polish international midfielder played 65 minutes for Derby’s Under-23 side in their 3-1 victory over Southampton in Premier League 2 - Division 1.
Getting over an hour of football under his belt was another milestone for the 22-year-old after ten months out of action.
Bielik sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury in January of this year whilst in action for the Under-23s are he prepared to return from a three-match suspension.
After a lengthy period of rehabilitation, which began with surgery soon after suffering the injury to repair the damage, Bielik is edging ever-closer to a first-team return.
“It was great to play 65 minutes and get a win for the team,” Bielik told RamsTV after Friday’s game.
“It has been a while, ten months, since I played in a proper game, so it was a good opportunity.
“I have got some minutes under my belt now and I can look forward to getting more in the future.
“It has been a tough time and the recovery from this knee injury has been long; but I am finally back. To be able to play football again is amazing.”
Bielik was a little apprehensive ahead of his first match action for a long period of time, but once the game was underway his concerns disappeared.
The next step for the former Arsenal player is to build up his sharpness in preparation for a return to the first-team matchday squad in the future.
After so long out of action, Bielik is itching to make his comeback and knows it will be a special moment when the time comes.
He explained: “I felt a little stressed before kick-off, which is a natural reaction after such an injury, but once the first whistle went, I was focussed on the game.
“I am very happy and there was a feeling of relief as I came off after an hour or so. My knee feels good and I cannot wait to play more and get stronger. I feel great and I am ready to go.
“I will speak to the coaching staff and the manager now about what we do moving forward. I speak to the manager every day and we made this decision to play for the Under-23s in this match.”
Bielik added: “It is good to get the confidence into my head once more. If the manager wants me to play for the Under-23s again I will go and do my best and get more minutes, as well as fighting for my place in the first-team.
“That is my aim and what I am here for, to be ready for the big games in the Championship. I want to help the team and I can’t wait for that moment that I get to play first-team football again.”
Bielik, capped three times by Poland at senior level, made 21 appearances for Derby last season prior to being injured.