Ian Culverhouse felt the Kettering Town players could be “proud of their effort” as his first game in charge of the club ended in a 1-0 defeat to high-flying Kidderminster Harriers at Latimer Park.
Amari Morgan-Smith’s 14th-minute goal ultimately proved decisive as Harriers took all three points but that didn’t quite tell the full story.
The Poppies looked to be up against it after goalkeeper Rhys Davies was stretchered off with a serious ankle injury just before half-time, forcing centre-half Connor Johnson to take the gloves with Jackson Smith ruled out due to Covid-19.
But Johnson had little to do as Kettering threw everything at Kidderminster late on with Jordon Crawford having a goal controversially ruled out for a handball against captain Connor Kennedy in the build-up while visiting goalkeeper Luke Simpson produced a brilliant save to deny Decarrey Sheriff in stoppage-time.
New boss Culverhouse knows some reinforcements are needed to bulk up the squad, especially with top scorer Callum Powell on his way out of the club after an offer from a higher-ranked club was accepted.
But the Poppies manager said: “I thought the boys were superb.
“I think they can be really proud of their effort. We only met them an hour and a half before kick-off and introduced ourselves, so that was all down to them. We had hardly any input at all.
“They can be proud of their effort and that’s something for us to build on.
“We know they need help in certain areas regarding players and what we can bring but, to a man, they were excellent.
“I had seen them twice recently so I knew all about the work ethic and we have lots of legs in our team.
“You have to play a certain way on our ground and that’s why we didn’t give them anything. We let them get on with how they have been playing because it has been effective, it really has.
“This club is in a really good position at the moment and we just have to try to improve it and get it rolling.
“Once you get that momentum behind you and the crowd is behind you, it can be a really hard place to come and play.
“We are just short in a couple of areas. We will work hard to give them some help because they need it and we will try to help them grow and get this thing moving.”
On the controversial decision from referee Greg Rollason to disallow Crawford’s goal, Culverhouse added: “It got a little bit too much for him in the end, I think.
“I didn’t see the handball. The boys are adamant that nothing happened in there but he saw it, it was given and we have to move on.”
Culverhouse confirmed the Poppies had accepted a “good money” offer for Powell ahead of the game while he also said he is hoping Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee Smith will be available to take over in goal following the injury to Davies, which looks to be damage to his ankle ligaments.
“I knew the offer was coming in for Callum and I knew it was good money for the club,” Culverhouse said.
“He deserves his chance because he has been superb for this club. We wish him well, we move on and the next man has to step up.
“It looked a bad one for Rhys. He collected the ball really well and he was brave on that but he landed heavily on it and it’s not looking too good.
“We have spoken to Jackson and he has kept us really informed with the protocols that are going on at Wolves. He is confident he will be available for Saturday.”