An energetic performance down the left by Brandon Mason and yet another goal for Dion Pereira were the two major positives for Hayden Mullins to salvage from the Under-23s' 2-1 defeat at Barnsley on Tuesday.
Playing on the left of a midfield four, Mason was up against Barnsley’s best player, Dylan Mottley-Henry, but he kept the flying, muscular wing-man in check in what was a great battle down that side at the Tykes' training ground.
Mason, who got stronger as the game wore on, also bombed forward with purpose, providing support to the front three.
“Brandon looked strong and fit and it was a big plus to have him back,” said Mullins.
“He’s a big player for us and defends really well and gets forward.”
Pereira, who switched seamlessly between the right of a front three and the number 10 role, is another player with a sweet left-foot and he’s started the season on fire in front of goal.
“Dion scored again and that’s his fifth goal in as many games, so that’s pleasing,” said Mullins. “He’s coming along nicely.”
Mullins knows all about handling disappointment, having missed an FA Cup final through suspension while playing for West Ham, and he was pleased to see his young players hurting after losing a game they could have had wrapped up by half-time if they had taken their chances.
“It’s good to see the lads are disappointed,” he said.
“It means they care. There are a lot of things to work on and a lot of things to learn from.”
Indeed Mullins was already analysing the entire match on the long coach journey home from Yorkshire.
“We started slowly and they dominated possession,” he said.
“But we grew into the game and had a good period when we had a few chances to go a goal in front, if not two. Dion’s hit the post, Michael [Folivi] had one on the line and fluffed it, so there were a lot of positives in the first-half.
“We were happy with the shape, and with Randell [Williams], Michael and Dion getting in behind. Those three did well.
“We were happy to go in 1-1 but then we started very slowly again and went a goal down again so we changed it, put Dion in the hole and brought Harvey [Bradbury] on.
“We looked good and we huffed and puffed but we didn’t carve out anything of any real note, and we didn’t really look like equalising.
“I was happy with the attitude and the work-rate. I thought the boys did well. We’ll look at the video, see what we did well and see what we need to learn from.”
The result means the Hornets are still just about the right side of the win-loss ledger, having won three and lost two of their five Professional Development League games this season.
“It’s been okay, we’ve had a couple of good results,” said Mullins.
“We got beat last-minute against Birmingham, which was tough to take, and today was a bit of an iffy performance. The team has come a long way, it’s just disappointing not to win games like that.”