Exeter City under-23 manager Matt Taylor praised the talent the club has in its academy following a 2-0 win over Sunderland in the Premier League Cup.
Sunderland, needing a positive result to keep their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages alive, named a strong starting XI for the match that had a combined total of 44 international caps and more than 200 Premier League appearances.
However, it was City who collected all three points – thanks to goals from Ryan Loft and Alex Byrne – to book their place in the last 16 of the competition. Matt admitted his young players were lifted by the names in the Sunderland side.
“I'm absolutely delighted,” said Matt. “It wasn't just this game, it was the previous games, and that was topped off by today.
“I thought we were absolutely excellent against a good Sunderland side with some outstanding players who've played Premier League and Championship football on a regular basis.
“We saw their teamsheet and I don’t want to say it inspired us but it gave us a bigger challenge and that lifted the lads.
“We played winter football on a poor pitch but it was effective, it really was. We put ourselves into the game with our physicality and our direct play.
“Ryan Brunt and Ryan Loft were outstanding at the top end of the pitch and that was the difference to start with.
“We got a foothold into the game and we just grew in stature, physicality and technicality and we just got better and better.”
Asked what beating a Sunderland side with plenty of experience could do for his team, Matt added: “Hopefully it will give them a lot of confidence, we've had a little chat about their development and it’s all a learning process.
“We had some really young lads out there but they stepped up.
“They grew into the game and got better and better, there were some huge performances from people like Alex Hartridge, who is out on loan at Truro, which is helping his game as you probably saw today.
“It's about getting them ready for the first team and I think a lot of the people watching would say some of those boys aren't too far away.
“It's very pleasing and it is full credit to Dan Green (City’s under-18s coach) and the academy staff that our younger players made a difference and improved us as a team.
"No disrespect to Sunderland but when they took their pros and experienced players off, and became younger as a team, they got slightly weaker but we grew even more so.”
Next up in the tournament, the Grecians face a final group game against Brighton & Hove Albion, with the winners of that game topping the group, and Matt knows it will be a tough test in East Sussex on February 26.
“It will be a big achievement to top the group but we've got to go there and play a similar style of play like we did today, play the Exeter City way,” he said.
“Brighton are a really good team and, although we beat them at home, they're probably one of the best teams in this group.
"It’s going to be a real test, we'll see who we get personnel-wise, but this game has shown that maybe when we're a little bit younger and perceived to be a little bit weaker as a team, we can grow into it.
"We've got some talented lads in the academy and they're making progress but this game isn't the end of it, this game is just another step in terms of our development and we’ll get better from here.”