TIVERTON Town turned in their second promising performance of pre-season despite going down 2-1 to a Stoke City XI at Ladysmead on Saturday.
And like their spirited defeat to Torquay United three days earlier, Tivvy surrendered two relatively soft goals before digging in and making life hard for their more illustrious opponents.
Lucas Dawson's fierce effort from the edge of the box flew into the bottom corner after 11 minutes, before Michael Smith's delicate curler three minutes later made it 2-0 to the visitors, who were managed by Adrian Pennock – a former Gillingham teammate of Yellows boss Mark Saunders'.
Tivvy refused to buckle though, and they tackled, chased and harried their opponents constantly as they searched for a way back into the game.
And they got exactly what they deserved when youngster Owen Howe managed to pull one back, bundling the ball home from a corner at the end of the first half.
Despite plenty of pressure and a handful of decent openings in the second half though, Tivvy were unable to find an equaliser.
Livewire striker Jules Emati-Emati blazed over the bar after setting himself up with some neat footwork, while Joe Bushin could not find a way past the keeper late on when under heavy pressure from a number of Stoke defenders.
And while Saunders insisted it was fitness as opposed to form he was looking for in the Yellows' pre-season fixtures, he admitted to being encouraged by what he had seen so far.
"It was a decent performance. They (Stoke) were big and strong, like Tony Pulis' sides always are, and that's filtered down to the kids," said Saunders.
"I don't care what the result is – it could be five, six, seven or eight for all I care – because it's all about what we do and we worked hard and did a lot of chasing.
"That will get our fitness levels up there quickly and we need more tough games like that to get ourselves ready.
"I'd like to think it's heading in the right direction. We could be a lot tidier on the football pitch but pre-season's about getting all the rustiness out of the way after six weeks off."
The game also gave Saunders the opportunity to cast an eye over various new signings, youngsters and triallists hoping to play for Tivvy this season.
That included former Plymouth Argyle defender Paul Kendall, who signed for the club after impressing Saunders during a short trial period.
He has been signed as a replacement for Adam Faux, who suffered a fractured skull following an assault after a night out in Exeter in May.
Triallists Chris Onoufriou, and the promising former Exeter City youth product Harry Nodwell – who did well in the Torquay match – were also in action, and Saunders admitted to being impressed with their contribution.
"I was really pleased with the young boys. Owen got a bit lucky with his goal. but that happens sometimes. They have worked hard and fitted in a treat. It's going in the right direction, so overall I'm quite pleased," he said.
"The newer guys have done well and adapted well. For the first couple of pre-season games we have worked quite hard and I think we've got to be pleased with that."