Dylan Williams described his first-ever league start for Derby County on Tuesday evening - as they held Sky Bet Championship leaders West Bromwich Albion to a 0-0 draw at the Hawthorns - as the perfect birthday present.
The defender turned 18 on Monday and was handed only his third senior start, with the previous two coming in the Carabao Cup, against the Baggies.
He produced a mature performance at left-wing back as Wayne Rooney’s side frustrated the promotion chasers and picked up a deserved clean sheet and point on their travels.
Williams has enjoyed an impressive rise from the Under-18s to the Rams’ first team after impressing over the course of pre-season with the squad in July.
The youngster is still technically a second-year scholar and he is determined to make the most of the opportunity to impress at senior level.
“It was a very amazing feeling to be out there with the team,” Williams told RamsTV.
“The gaffer has trust in me and we were playing the team that is top of the league. I remember only last year I was playing against West Bromwich Albion with the Under-18s, so to be playing against their first-team at Championship level is absolutely an unbelievable feeling.
“I was nervous when the whistle went to kick off, but I believed in myself. I know what I am capable of and I would like I think I showed it out there.
“It’s the best birthday present and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
He added: “I have my standards and I’m not going to let them drop. I can only build off this and fingers crossed I will have more starts in the future.
“I’m always trying to stay grounded. When I’m in the changing room with my friends, I see them as friends and not just Under-18s, they are my family I guess. When I step up to the first team, I feel like I am mature for my age.”
Derby had to dig deep to pick up a point in the West Midlands with the Rams’ backline, and goalkeeper Kelle Roos, in excellent form throughout.
Rooney switched formation and team tactics for the game and Williams felt the side rose to the occasion against the table toppers.
“We knew it was going to be a scrappy game, we got told that beforehand, so we needed to put our bodies on the line and we had to feed off each other’s performance,” he said.
“Not one person gave in and we got the result we wanted, but we could come away from these games with a win if we just create that one opportunity to score but that will hopefully come.
“We needed to stick at it and hang in there. Five minutes added time wasn’t ideal, but we got it in our legs, fed off it and we did well to get a clean sheet.”
Derby will return to action, after back-to-back away games following the two-week international break, on Saturday afternoon at Pride Park Stadium against Stoke City (3pm kick-off).