Edu Rubio was full of praise for his Under-18s side after they progressed through to the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in the Club’s history.
Defender Tommy Hope scored a stunning 87th-minute half-volley to see off Cardiff City at Stadium MK and secure the young Dons’ place in the next round of the prestigious competition.
“It’s a great night for us,” Rubio told iFollow MK Dons. “The lads were exceptional and it is certainly a day to celebrate as an Academy and a whole Club.
“Our thanks to the fans, first team, chairman and directors for coming out to support us. It’s so important that there is a connection between the Academy, the first team and the supporters because this is a Club that has a great tradition when it comes to the Academy.”
The FA Youth Cup win is another achievement in what has so far been an excellent 2017/18 campaign for the Under-18s – one which has seen them score plenty of goals and often dominant their opponents.
On Tuesday, however, they were forced to display a different side to their game, as they withstood long periods of pressure from the Bluebirds before taking their chance late in the game to ultimately win the tie.
“Under-18s and Under-23s football is all about practicing our DNA and it is important to protect that but ultimately, in a knockout competition and when preparing players to play in the first team, it is also about being competitive,” Rubio said.
“We said back in the changing rooms that today was going to be one of those games where game management was going to be important. Funnily enough, a friend of mine also suggested that it was all going to be about our game management and she was right!
“Cardiff played very well and at some stages of the game they were better than us but we’ve stayed in the game until the very last minute and then were clinical from a wide free-kick.
“I’m very proud of the boys because they’ve showed that other side of football. We didn’t really play our way at times but what we did do was defend very well and were able to score the only goal.
“It’s all an education for them.”
Hope was the match-winner for the young Dons courtesy of his sweet half volley which found the net via the crossbar – a strike worthy of a Goal of the Season nomination at any age level.
“We did practice set-pieces a couple of times but it didn’t come off the same way it did tonight!” Rubio joked.
“I’m delighted for Tommy – he is a cracking lad and he’s a very hard-working boy. I think it’s great when players like him get the opportunity to score those goals and be the match winner.”
There was also a mention for goalkeeper Alfie Jones, a first-year apprentice who pulled off a string of impressive saves to earn a well-deserved clean sheet.
“Alfie was very good and he made a couple of really good saves. The back four were also exceptional but we are a team – that also goes for the players who were on the bench and those who couldn’t play because of injury.
“It has been a very good team performance and that’s the special thing about this group – we operate as a team and we are united. It is a victory for everyone!”