Brighton & Hove Albion under-23 coach Simon Rusk was delighted with how his players stuck to the game plan and showed tactical discipline to claim a 2-0 victory over Benfica in the Premier League International Cup tonight.
The Seagulls produced a composed performance to keep a clean sheet after goals from Viktor Gyokeres and Aaron Connolly, and Rusk praised his team for following his instructions from start to finish.
He said, “It was a really professional and disciplined performance. I think the lads were good value for the win. There were some good individual performances, and it was a good team performance overall.
“Benfica have got some talented individuals, as have we, but we certainly knew that if we wanted to get the win tonight, we’d have to have an element of tactical discipline.
“We weren’t going to solve every problem, and we knew that if we were going to protect the goal and play on the counter attack, we were going to give some possession away.
"If we could remain solid, we knew we had a threat on the counter attack with Aaron [Connolly], Viktor [Gyokeres] and Anders [Dreyer]. The formation suited what we had and the boys executed the game plan very well.”
After Gyokeres opened the scoring from the penalty spot, Connolly fired his ninth goal of the season to double Albion’s lead, and Rusk commented on the Irishman’s eye-catching form.
“He’s in a good place at the minute, just like any forward who’s scoring goals. He’s feeling confident and he’s got good energy.
“His hold-up play has really improved and his timing has got much better over the past six months. He needs to keep working hard, keep looking to improve and see where that takes him.
“He’s scored a variety of goals, such as the header against Blackburn last week, but he still needs to be in and around the box to get the tap-ins.
“Overall, he’s certainly got more of a repertoire of finishes this season than in seasons gone by.”
Max Sanders returned to the starting line-up as part of a five-man midfield, and Rusk highlighted the depth of quality in his squad, after changing the formation for the visit of Benfica.
“I was really pleased with Max, the midfield three complemented each other really nicely. He’s an honest, hard-working type.
“He was unfortunate to pick up a knock just after returning from England duty, so it’s nice to see him getting back to that level that we know he’s capable of.
“It’s a natural progression that we’ve got that bit of quality in the under-23 squad. That bit of depth allows us to compete in different tournaments.
“That was on show tonight — we had Max back from injury, which allowed a change of formation to take place. It’s pleasing that we can adjust and have a really strong side out.”