Middlesbrough Under-23s boss Paul Jenkins says his young side "got bullied" by Cambridge in Tuesday's Checkatrade Trophy defeat.
The Boro youngsters lost 2-1 to bring an early end to their involvement in the revamped competition, which this season welcomed Premier League academy sides alongisde League One and Two clubs.
Jenkins admits it was a tough night for his side but he hopes the young players learn from the experience against an established EFL side like Cambridge.
He said: "First half I thought we got off to a poor start. We know what to expect from Cambridge, we'd done our homework, we know they would put us under pressure.
"The story is you make mistakes at this level you get punished and we certainly got punished. I felt as though we got bullied, ultimately it looked like men against boys out there, Cambridge were direct, they were physical and what we expect from our players is knowing how to play against this."
He added: "This is the real world, it's not the Premier League. This is the reality for some of our players and the challenge for those players is: 'Where do you see yourself? Can you cope with this kind of challenge?' and they didn't show that tonight."