Ben Tilney said the smaller MK Dons squad is helping the young players make the most of their opportunities in the first team.
The 19-year-old made his first start against Newport County on Tuesday night, and scored the goal of the night, equalising with 20 minutes to go after he and his fellow academy team-mates had trailed 2-0.
And in the most unlikely of circumstances, Dons staged a remarkable late comeback to win 3-2 and progress to the second round of the EFL Cup.
READ MORE: REPORT: Newport 2-3 MK Dons: Dons complete a remarkable comeback
Tilney was one of 13 players to have come through the academy in manager Karl Robinson’s squad for the trip to Rodney Parade. The manager took the unique approach of making 11 changes for the EFL Cup match, and announced his side on Monday to allow fans to decide whether to make the journey to south Wales.
Those who did go were treated to a remarkable second-half comeback, with Dean Bowditch netting a penalty before Tilney scored a rocket, in off the post to equalise after Dons fell 2-0 down. Bowditch then netted the winner in the last minute to see Dons progress.
With Robinson desperately short on first team players, Tilney believes the manager’s faith in youth is a huge opportunity, and one the academy stars cannot afford to let slip.
“I’m learning every day,” Tilney told MKDons.com. “Fortunately, it’s a smaller team, so we get more of a chance. But it’s up to us to take those chances when we’re given them.”
On making his debut against Newport County, Tilney said: “It was amazing. I’m over the moon to get my goal and really glad it didn’t go to extra time!
“It’s a young team, and we stuck together. I’m really proud of everyone.
“It was a great moment for the club. We’ve all grown up together. We almost forgot it was a first team game, and a cup competition. We’re all buzzing.”
Tilney, like the majority of his academy team-mates, initially struggled with the pace of the game on Tuesday night. Newport, making just one change from the side which lost 3-2 to Mansfield in their League 2 opener, showed a game-understand and nous the Dons youngsters simply didn’t have through inexperience, so it was little surprise when the home side took the lead through Sean Rigg.
However, Dons grew into the game in the second half, but fell 2-0 down when George B Williams was adjudged to have handled in the box, allowing former Dons midfielder Mark Randall to make it 2-0.
Lacking direction and an experienced head up front, the introductions of Dean Bowditch and Daniel Powell provided immediate fruit, with Bowditch pulling one back before Tilney’s sensational equaliser, scoring from long range.
He said: “I like to get forward when I’m playing at full back, and when I was running through, I heard some of the boys shouting ‘shoot, shoot!’ So I took a swing for it and it went in!
“It was a bit surreal when it went in, especially on my debut.
“It was a brilliant feeling.”