Three teenagers joined Wayne Rooney in the Derby County midfield against Manchester United, and the captain saw cause for optimism.
Player-coach Wayne Rooney hopes his teenage Derby County team-mates will benefit from the experience of taking on Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round.
Derby were soundly beaten 3-0 by United at Pride Park on Thursday, with Luke Shaw opening the scoring before Odion Ighalo's brace secured a quarter-final trip to Norwich City.
Home captain Rooney was facing his former club and came closer than any colleague to getting the Rams on the scoresheet, seeing a stoppage-time free-kick touched over by Sergio Romero.
However, the former United captain was joined by a trio of young prospects in midfield – Max Bird, 19, Louie Sibley, 18, and Jason Knight, 19 – who impressed in spells.
Sibley was central to much of the action as he enjoyed a second-half tussle with Scott McTominay that saw each player inflict some rugged challenges.
And Rooney was encouraged by what he saw despite the disappointment of defeat.
"Obviously Manchester United are a good team and we wanted to try to win," United's record goalscorer told BT Sport.
"I think the draw was quite favourable for ourselves or Manchester United, whoever got through, and they were the better team on the night.
"But I have to say for our younger players, what an experience for them, and they didn't disappoint. They had some great moments today, and this game, although we lost, will do them the world of good."
Asked to assess the gap between the teams, he added: "That's the level, the difference in them handling the ball. There was always going to be that difference.
"We had to take our moments, which we had, but unfortunately we didn't. We didn't let anyone down tonight. We gave everything and, unfortunately, just came up short."
Rooney suggests he is also learning in the Championship as he takes on new duties under manager Phillip Cocu.
"Of course you can still learn," he said. "It's a different league to what I'm used to, different ambitions.
"Obviously, at Manchester United, you're always thriving to win trophies. At Derby, we're thriving to try to get promotion. It is different. And my role as a coach, trying to balance them, is different.
"It's something I'm really enjoying. I'm enjoying playing football first of all – I'm feeling good, I want to continue doing that – but also that transition period of going from player to coach.
"The manager's been fantastic with me and I want to keep learning and keep trying to improve myself."