Gary Mills felt there were “shoots of life” from Corby Town on Tuesday night.
The Steelmen went into their Integro League Cup first-round clash at AFC Rushden & Diamonds on the back of a sobering 5-1 defeat at fellow strugglers Sutton Coldfield Town in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division last weekend.
And while they may have slipped to yet another defeat when they were beaten 2-1 by their county rivals at the Dog & Duck, the marked improvement in performance was there for all to see.
Corby had been due to travel to Marine this weekend but that game is now off after their scheduled opponents beat Darlington in the FA Trophy in midweek to make themselves part of the first round tomorrow (Saturday).
But the Steelmen will still be in action against current leaders Rushall Olympic in a re-arranged match at Steel Park.
And Mills, whose team remain rock-bottom and nine points adrift of safety, is solely focusing on making sure the performance levels continue to improve.
“The results will always take care of themselves,” said Mills.
“It was the performance, endeavour and spirit that worried me last Saturday.
“We want pride and passion. They didn’t show that and they let themselves down.
“Footballers are proud and you will always have your friends and family asking how you got on and no-one wants to keep having to the give the answer that they lost.
“They needed to have some personal pride and they showed that on Tuesday.
“I don’t want people to think we are happy with a loss because that’s not the case. But I was pleased with what I saw.
“There were shoots of life there and now they have to keep delivering those kind of performances now.”
Mills received a welcome boost in midweek as midfielder Ben Milnes made his return from injury.
It was the first time Milnes, who has been recovering from a calf problem, had featured since Mills took the reins.
And the Corby boss also had some high praise for Connor Kennedy, who impressed in an unfamiliar holding midfield role while also scoring the Steelmen’s goal.
“Ben oozes calmness,” Mills added.
“People trust him. They know they can give the ball to him, make runs off him and they know they have a good chance of getting the ball back. I needed to get some minutes into him and that was a huge plus.
“And “I thought Connor epitomised everything we were about. He had lots of energy, he won tackles, he made some tough challenges and got himself a goal.
“I thought he was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch.
“I am pleased for him because I have been a bit critical of him inhouse but he’s another young lad who is trying to make his way at the club and forge a career.
“He put in a display that sets the standard for him.”
The Steelmen also had a new signing at the Dog & Duck with goalkeeper Dan Farrell making his debut after joining from the club from Brackley Town.