Two goals after the break gave Brighton under-23s a deserved 2-0 win against League One opposition as Albion’s group stage campaign got underway with a victory.
A 52nd-minute own goal from the hosts gave Albion a lead to protect, and Bojan Radulovic added a second in the closing stages.
After rejoining the club in a player-coach role this summer, Andrew Crofts came into the side for his first appearance, more than three-and-a-half years.
There was also another appearance for first-team goalkeeper Jason Steele, while Steven Alzate, who impressed last week in the Carabao Cup at Bristol Rovers, lined up in central midfield alongside Crofts.
He said, “I’m pleased with the performance first and foremost, and I think we deserved the win.
“We rode our luck a little bit at times from set-pieces but with a young team out you’re going to have that with an element of their seniority.
“We created a lot of chances throughout, had good moments of quality in the game, and then saw it out well once we had gone ahead.”
Rusk also praised Croft’s and goalkeeper Steele’s efforts on the evening.
“He’s [Crofts] a wonderful professional and I think you saw that tonight – his approach to the game was a great example to the lads out there,” he continued.
“The same has to be said for Jason Steele in goal, his approach throughout these games that he’s played for us has been outstanding as well.
“At the other end of the scale we had young Antef Tsoungui at 16 who made two really vital interventions that probably summed up our desire tonight.”
Albion take on Southend United and then Leyton Orient in their remaining two Southern Group C contests in this year’s competition.
The boss was keen to highlight the benefits that facing senior opposition brings.
“This sort of competition is different, we get a lot out of our league campaign and the games are very technical.
“We’ve come here tonight facing a different sort of challenge and we’ve beaten a senior group of players, so that’s a result of a lot of good work that we’ve done in Premier League 2.
“We played against an organised side this evening with an effective style of football – our players had to deal with that and it was a great test that we’ve done well in.
“Football’s about ambition and we want to do as well as we possibly can in this competition – it’s a prestigious final at Wembley Stadium, we’re proud to wear a Brighton shirt – it’s a big task but you have to set your ambitions high and we’ve had a good start tonight.”