Sunderland Under-23s recorded their second league victory of the season on Sunday afternoon - and manager Elliott Dickman believes his side have made 'massive improvements' this campaign.
The young Black Cats defeated third-place Reading in Premier League 2, Division 2, at the Stadium of Light, courtesy of Jack Diamond's solitary goal midway through the second half.
Sunderland remain bottom of the table with just nine points from 15 games but, after some heavy defeats this term, Dickman has been pleased by the response from his young side.
"I'm pleased for the players, obviously it's been a difficult season results-wise but they've made massive improvements over the season," said the Sunderland boss.
"The hard work and effort that they put into everyday training and every match that they play, you've seen it again there today.
"I'm just delighted for them because they've put a lot of effort in and sometimes they don't get the rewards they deserve but today they did."
After taking the lead in the 62nd minute, Sunderland were forced to defend in the closing stages against the Royals.
They also had goalkeeper Max Stryjek to thank, after the 22-year-old pulled off a couple of important saves late on.
"Towards the end we were hanging on a little bit but we kept going and kept at it," said Dickman.
"To be fair to the lads they defended well and did their job, that's what they're there for to make blocks and stops.
"The goalkeeper has had to make saves and I thought he made two good saves and it's gone our way so we're happy to take that."
Stryjek recently impressed during a loan spell at National League side Eastleigh but returned to Wearside in December.
The Polish shot stopper is some way down the pecking order at Sunderland, though, and Dickman believes another loan move might be best.
"I would say he did really well at Eastleigh," added Dickman when asked about his goalkeeper. "He's done smashing in the two games he's played for the under 23s this season."
"I would imagine the next step would be another loan but that's not my decision, that's down to the first-team staff.
"If there is something there for him they'll decide on that not me.
"As long as he's here and if he needs game time he'll play for the under-23s but ultimately it'll be the manager's call on that."