St Ives Town manager Ricky Marheineke was left with a mixture of disappointment and pride last night.
Marheineke saw his Saints side bow out of the FA Trophy after a 1-0 first qualifying round defeat at the hands of higher-level Kettering Town at ProEdge Westwood Road.
But he had few complaints about the display delivered by his men who were eventually condemned to defeat by a solitary goal 16 minutes from time.
Marheineke said: “I’m disappointed to go out, but I’m proud of the performance of the players even though we just fell short.
“We probably should have been ahead at the break, but you are always at risk if not taking chances against good opposition.
“We know that is the case in our own league and it is even more so against higher-level teams.”
Saints would have gone ahead had they taken either of the glorious chances that came their way at opposite ends of the opening period.
Only 70 seconds had passed when Danny Watson slid a terrific Scott Sinclair cross wide and just before the break Harry O’Malley steered a close-range header from a Ben Seymour-Shove free-kick delivery well over the bar.
But they would also have been behind had it not been for the frequent brilliance of Tim Trebes.
The Saints goalkeeper saved a 15th minute penalty from Dubi Ogbonna (awarded after a cross was handled) and denied the same Kettering man in open play.
Those contributions were much to the delight of the home fans who frequently serenaded Ogbonna, a former Saints player, about his high wages and poor timekeeping.
Saints man Jared Cunniff and Ogbonna both drilled low shots just wide in the early second-half exchanges before the latter escaped with a yellow card after appearing to kick out at home captain Charlie De’Ath.
He did soon depart when substituted, but Kettering went on to win the game as Gary Mulligan’s 74th minute header looped high into the sky before dropping over the back-pedalling Trebes and into the net.
St Ives threw on Stuart Eason and Steve Gentle to create an imposing attack in the closing stages, but they were thwarted in their search for a leveller as they went out with their heads held high.
Marheineke added: “We’ve made no secret of the fact the the league is our priority and, if we can take this level of performance into Division One (Central) games, there won’t be many teams who take points off us.
“We now need to knuckle down and build on the good start we’ve had.”