Pat Lyons described himself as ‘proud’ of Derby County’s youngsters for the way they conducted themselves in challenging circumstances for Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup Third Round tie at Chorley.
Derby’s first-team squad and staff were unable to take part in the tie after several individuals tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, meaning both they and their close contacts would need to self-isolate.
That left members of the Rams’ Under-23s and Under-18s sides, albeit with reduced numbers due to injuries and a large number of players already within the first-team set-up, to make up the side against the National League North outfit.
Lyons, the club’s Senior Professional Development Phase Coach, led the youthful side with an average age of 19, at Victory Park and all 14 players that appeared for Derby made their debuts for the club in the match.
Chorley were 2-0 winners on the day with Connor Hall scoring from close range after ten minutes before Mike Calveley sealed the home side’s win with six minutes left.
Derby pushed hard throughout the 90 minutes as they had to face up to a strong and physical Chorley side and, despite the defeat, Lyons could not fault the players’ efforts.
Speaking to RamsTV after the game, Lyons said: “The performance and the way the players competed and how they worked their socks off with very little notice for what was to come this week, we should be proud of every single one of them.
“I have just told them in the dressing to get their heads up. The way they went out and competed for the football club was unbelievable. They will remember this day for the rest of their lives.
“We were in the game all the way until probably the last ten minutes. We had to deal with their physicality and with lads that are 16 or 17 years they had to stand up to all those balls coming in our box.
“You can’t look after the result most of the time. The performance, and what we wanted from them, was brilliant. It wasn’t to be, it wasn’t the fairy tale ending that we wanted; but that’s football and we wish Chorley all the best in the next round.”
He added: “It has been a great learning experience and that is fantastic. Suddenly, the lads have come into this first-team environment in the FA Cup Third Round.
“They had to deal with people kicking the ball over their heads, people backing into them, people winning headers, tall and powerful strikers and plenty of set pieces. Every one of them will take loads away from this and it will be a great learning curve for them and one that will be great for their development.”
Lyons is confident, when the dust settles on a surreal week for Derby’s youngsters, they will be all the better for the experience.
Whether they make the grade with the Rams or elsewhere, the players have a memorable moment in their careers to reflect and build on.
“You would never have thought we’d have had the week we have had,” Lyons said. “It’s unprecedented and we have had to change things daily this week.
“Adaptability is a big thing for us and being able to react to that as staff and players. Some of the players were going to be on the bench and all of a sudden they were called in to starting (after a small number of COVID-19 positive results in the Under-23 squad yesterday). I think the key message is you have always got to be ready.
“You have got to be ready and it has been a great learning experience for them on and off the pitch.”