NIKO Hamalainen shared his pride after making his QPR debut under the lights at Loftus Road on Wednesday night.
The 19 year-old was handed his first senior start by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink for the R’s EFL Cup tie with Sunderland, lining-up at left-back against their Premier League opponents.
The Finnish youngster was cheered on by a 14,000-strong crowd as well as his family, who made sure they were in town for the occasion.
“It was definitely a proud moment,” he told www.qpr.co.uk. “I’ve been training for the past two-and-a-half years to finally get to make my debut for QPR.
“It was a proud moment too for my family, who flew over today to see it.”
Hamalainen admitted to suffering with a few pre-match nerves afterwards, but was pleased with his and the team’s performance – if not the end result.
“I was nervous before the whistle blew,” he added. “I was just thinking about not making any mistakes, but it was a great experience.
“Perhaps we could have done better with the goals [we conceded] but I tried my best and I thought we did well as a team overall.”
Sandro’s opener on the hour-mark – his third in two games in this season’s competition – had Rangers on course for a place in the last 16, but two goals from Paddy McNair turned things around.
Meanwhile, Hamalainen was given the arduous task of handling the Black Cats’ record-signing Didier Ndong on his senior bow.
“It was tough,” Hamalainen said. “Especially against the winger in the second half! I lost my legs a bit and he kept running and running.
“But it was good experience for me coming up against a Premier League team, which is where, as a young player, you want to aspire to.
“I was happy with how I did.”
Hamalainen is the latest Academy product to enjoy a taste of First Team action this season, including Osman Kakay who was on the opposite flank for his second successive start in the EFL Cup.
He admits their and others inclusion into the recent matchday squads has given their fellow Under-23 team-mates added incentive to do the same.
“You can see it in training,” he added. “When you look over at the Under-23s they’re always on it, giving 100 per cent and pushing themselves. They know there are opportunities here with the First Team.
“Hopefully tonight will be the first of many.”