Graham Rix paid tribute to 10-man New Milton Town after they gave his AFC Portchester side a scare in the Wessex League premier division.
The visitors played the entire 90 minutes of the Wicor Rec clash a man short after unavailability had decimated their squad.
But the home side made heavy weather of what should have been a stroll in the Portchester sunshine.
Goals from George Way, Steffan Gaisie and Liam Horsted eventually secured a 3-0 victory – but it was hardly a vintage display against a side looking to exit the competition at the end of the season.
Head coach Rix said: ‘The first half wasn’t the best but I must credit the lads from New Milton who made things very difficult for us.
‘At least the lads picked it up in the second half and did well to keep a clean sheet for the third match in a row.
‘What is important for us now is to finish the season well – and by that I mean team performances and results, in that order.
‘Tomorrow night’s match here against league leaders Blackfield & Langley will go some way to showing how far we have come this season.
‘And more importantly, it will show what needs to be done to strengthen a club planning to move on and up.’
While the official teamsheet named a full strength New Milton side – plus two substitutes – three players failed to turn up.
The management team were left to make the most of the 10 players they had.
And they did just that as, for much of the first half, Portchester were forced to defend in numbers.
It wasn’t until Rix and first-team coach Louis Bell made their feelings known from the dug out that Way linked up with Pabs N’Doye’s to fire the hosts ahead.
New Milton continued their fight, though. And the match only began to slip away from them on 65 minutes when the experienced Horsted came off the substitutes’ bench to add some sparkle to a strike force that had – until that point – failed to deliver.
And it proved to be an inspired move as the former Pompey and Dunfermline striker – just back in the squad after a virus - quickly responded by setting up Gaisie to fire a second from close range.
Even then Horsted had something left in his locker to delight the management team.
He met Gaisie’s cross and, in almost one movement, chested the ball down and rifled home a third from close range to put a gloss on an otherwise unconvincing display.
– DAVE KEMP