A switch to a 3-5-2 formation at the weekend coincided with a very strong 90-minute defensive performance from the Blues as they kept high-flying Newport County at bay ... until the very last devastating kick of the game.
Speaking about the tweak to the line-up, manager Steven Pressley said: “The players looked very comfortable with it and I was really pleased.
“Having said that, there isn’t an aspect of the game I wasn’t pleased with, other than maybe a couple of moments where we could have finished off our really good moves.
“It’s hard to point out negatives because it was such a complete performance. The only real negative, as we all know, is that we lost the game.”
“Defensively I was very pleased,” he continued. “The back three, it’s probably most suited to us, we can play 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 and I just feel the likes of Byron [Webster] and Nat [Knight-Percival] have got into that.
“Byron’s performances have been exceptional and Nat looks really comfortable. Our two wing-backs have grown into it as well and both of them were outstanding. In a lot of ways the change to that back three has helped us.
“If we play like that every week, trust me, we’ll be a very good team. That’s the most encouraged I’ve been about this group after any game.
“Also, this 3-5-2 option was the reason I brought Gethin Jones in. There’s nothing better than seeing the strengths of the players once you have them on the grass. From quite early on I could see that the strength of Elliott and Iredale could be as wing backs, and to utilise that the switch to three at the back frees them up a little bit.
“As a manager, you may have a way you want to play, but you have to learn, adapt and be flexible. I’ve learned a lot about my players over the last few months and that’s why we’re now able to use different systems.”
The approach to the game from the Blues brought praise from Newport’s first team management consultant Lennie Lawrence as he conceded afterwards that the away side had deserved to leave with something to show for their efforts.
“A lot of the Newport staff were very complimentary and the boys deserve great credit for that,” the manager commented. “As I said on Saturday, they carried out our instructions to the detail.
“All of the points we’d made, the small details, they were so intense in their work. I’ve spoken about the defence, but I thought Hallam Hope gave an exceptional performance. I was gutted about the result, but we can take a lot from it.
“People may have questioned the selection of Sagaf and Hope over McKirdy, but their performances certainly proved me right. I thought Mo was amazing and he’s getting fitter all the time. When he first came in you could see that he was fatiguing after 70 minutes or so but he’s getting better and better all the time. I’m really chuffed with the way he’s developing.
“With McKirdy and Hope, both of those players like to drop out and get into the 10 position. We felt the best way to disturb them was down the sides and I thought Hallam did that to really good effect.
“If you’re going with striking partnerships you have to look at what one brings and what the other one brings, so that’s the reason we did what we did. We know what Harry brings, but it was a game where I felt Hope could give us the movement in behind, with Fela giving us the connection.”
The key now is to take that level of performance into the next run of games, starting this weekend with the visit of Crewe.
“I completely agree, that is the key,” he said. “That’s the job, what we have to do, to play with that intent, that courage, composure, aggression, all those things, we have to do all of that next weekend, and I hope we can.
“The good thing is that I didn’t have to lift the players when I went into the dressing room. The reason they were so down is that they’d given everything, and they knew how well they’d played.
“Once the dust settles a little bit they’ll be able to take the positives from it, and that will be important for what we want to do going on from here.”
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