The two sides of St Neots Town were both evident in one high-pressure Saturday afternoon.
Thankfully, for boss Andy Davies, it was the slick and attack-minded side seen for the majority of their bottom-of-the-table showdown against Cinderford which prevailed.
A first-half brace from Sam Mulready and a late clincher from the outstanding Peter Clark earned a 3-1 victory on ‘pay what you want’ day at the Premier Plus Stadium.
The 334 fans present saw the home side control plenty of the contest, but for almost half of the second period it was anything but a cakewalk as the rock-bottom visitors cut their arrears and caused a worrying wobble.
All of a sudden, a Saints team that had earlier been in complete control was on the ropes. They lost focus and discipline when appearing to make contesting decisions from referee Alistair Wilson a bigger priority than the basics of defending.
It was a spell that certainly didn’t impress the manager on a day when so much of what his team produced did please him.
“We dominated the first half when we took the game to Cinderford, just as we set out to do,” said Davies.
“We pressed all over the park, we played with intensity, we got two goals and we could have had more.
“We spoke at half-time about the fact you do not get three points for playing well for 45 minutes.
“We asked the lads to treat the game as though it was still 0-0 and come out in the same vain, but we failed to do that.
“We seemed to what to camp deeper in our own half and Cinderford got a goal back as a result of though.
“We then had a nervy spell and it took us a while to get back onto the front foot, but once we did we looked dangerous again.
“Peter was different class all over the park and it was fitting for him to get the late goal that sealed the win.
“It is only one result, but you have to start somewhere and hopefully this can be the first step in getting our season going.”
While Clark, a midfielder who appears to have added some off-the-ball steel to his considerable talent and finesse on it, was the heartbeat of the St Neots Town team, the biggest threat was always posed by Mulready.
The striker, snapped up from Stamford AFC late last month, delivered a couple of early warnings to Cinderford with a glancing header that bounced just wide and a deflected shot which drifted past a post.
He also saw what would have been a relatively simple headed chance taken away from him by strike-partner James Hall, who couldn’t get a telling connection when jumping to meet a Tom Spark cross.
But Mulready did eventually succeed in breaking the deadlock in the 22nd minute when reacting sharply to fire home after a Declan Rogers pass had been deflected into his path by a defender.
And he doubled the lead 12 minutes later with the simplest of tap-ins which owed much to the perseverance and quality of Hall, who harried and beat a defender by the corner flag before darting into the box and picking out his team-mate.
That’s now three goals in as many Saints appearances for Mulready and there are clear signs that his partnership with Hall can become a prolific one.
But there are also still indications that St Neots are far from watertight in defence and that was seen early in the second half.
Cinderford, who had posed no threat at all during the opening period, halved their arrears five minutes after the restart as Gethyn Hill was left unattended to tuck away a cross-shot from Karnell Chambers.
And the visitors weren’t far away from a leveller soon afterwards when a free-kick from Sam Hunt curled its way through a packed penalty area without getting a decisive touch.
But Cinderford weren’t helped by the loss of their skipper, Josh Nelmes, to a nasty facial injury inadvertently
Saints gradually regained the upper hand and their victory was sealed in the 89th minute when Clark intercepted a pass, played a classy one-two with Declan Rogers and slotted a finish in at the near post.
It was a moment of quality worthy of winning any game and it ensured Saints secured their most important success of the season so far.
They climbed two places to 21st in the Premier Division standings as a result, but remain two points from safety ahead of a Tuesday trip to another struggling side, Kettering Town.