A delighted Karl Robinson could barely contain his excitement after he watched his young side complete a remarkable comeback to knock Newport County out of the EFL Cup.
Trailing 2-0 after 55 minutes, with goals from Marlon Jackson and former Dons midfielder Mark Randall, Dons staged a sensational fight back thanks in large part to Robinson’s substitutions.
Dean Bowditch scored from the spot within two minutes of coming on, before Ben Tilney scored a sensational equaliser with 20 minutes to go. Bowditch then scored as the clock ticked over to 90 minutes to complete the comeback and put their name into the hat for the next round.
But after seeing a similarly young side lose a pre-season friendly against Brackley last month, Robinson admitted he had to urge them to take advantage of what could be their final opportunity in the first team.
“I’m so, so happy!,” beamed Robinson afterwards. “I’m so proud of them all. Certain circumstances have allowed them to play today, but we’ve worked hard to get the shape together. They’ve only played together of sorts in the youth team.
“There were 13 or 14 academy graduates in that squad. This is growth of a squad, of a team. These are kids. This is why I do my job. I’m so happy! We’re giving them an opportunity in life. I won’t ever forget this moment.
“It was literally men versus boys. Newport played on Saturday so they’d get fatigued. But this young team played away at Brackley, was drawing 2-2 at half time and lost 5-2. I told them they needed to take this opportunity because we don’t know where their careers will go from here.
“We knew we had to put on Daniel Powell, Dean Bowditch and George Williams on, who is a Welsh international, but I didn’t expect to be only 2-0 down - I thought it would be a lot more. I’m just speechless. This is what my job is about.”
While the average age of the squad was just 19, experienced heads of keeper Lee Nicholls and defender Scott Wootton added the know-how and nous needed to get past Newport, and Robinson was delighted with two of his debutants.
He said: “Scott Wootton was outstanding and Lee Nicholls was excellent too. You can see why we brought them to the club. Wootton won every header, every tackle, played the long balls when he needed to. He’ll make mistakes but he’s not fully fit yet.”
Prior to the game, Robinson and chairman Pete Winkelman were spotted with a mystery man on the pitch. With social media awash with rumour around Dons potentially signing Bristol City striker Kieran Agard, Robinson refused to comment on anything regarding his pre-match meeting.
“No we can’t say anything. We’ve met with players, got a lot of work to do. We’re looking. But we cannot say anything.”