Town boss Jamie Fullarton was encouraged by what he saw in his team’s 2-1 friendly defeat to Bolton at The Shay on Saturday.
Bolton went into a 2-0 lead with a goal in each half from Adam Le Fondre and Sammy Ameobi, before substitute Mekhi McLeod, one of Fullarton’s new signings, scored a superb individual goal.
Town competed well against their Championship visitors, and could have forced an equaliser during a strong finish to the match.
“We’re in pre-season, so results, while we’re looking to win every time we play, are part of the building block to August 4,” said Fullarton.
“That’s what we’re building towards. It’s a six-week cycle we have to make sure the crescendo is on August 4 and that we can maintain it for the 46 games.
“This was just another block in that foundation as we build towards it.
“There was a lot of pleasing sings from what’s been asked of them and what we’re working on.
“Are we any further advanced than I thought we’d be? No. Are we further behind? No. We’re exactly where I thought we’d be, which is pleasing because it means we’re on schedule for being ready.”
When asked what had particularly pleased him about the performance, Fullartonn said: “The unwritten rule is that application and attitude. In general, I think they’ve bought into that and that’s the minimum requirement.
“On top of that I felt their understanding of certain aspects we’re working on, which didn’t bring total fruition, but they really pleased me from a tactical and roles/responsibility of who does what, when.
“I felt we looked as if we understood it, there was a confidence of knowing what your role was.
“Did it always work, in and out of possession? No. Why? Because you’re playing against a Championship club.
“At times I could see what we’ve been working on in and out of possession, mostly to do with your starting position and how we build from there, was really positive.
“It will, as we develop it over the next three weeks, all come together for that August 4.”
Fullarton said the game asked different questions of his team than their previous two friendlies against Stockport and Brighouse.
“We’re still only halfway through pre-season, so we haven’t quite got our legs, we haven’t quite got the feel for the ball as well as we will have,” Fullarton said, “but there’s definite signs that we’re getting there, and we’re progressing at the rate we would want to.
“One of the most pleasing things was, you’re looking for game management and how do we react playing against players who are of a level that is three above us? Do they sink or swim? Do they stand up and believe in what we’re trying to do? I think they showed an understanding and belief in what we’re asking of them.”
Fullarton said work was continuing on adding to his squad before the start of the season, which could include trialists Nathan Clarke and Raheem Hanley, both of whom started on Saturday.
“We’re looking at improving the squad at all times and to progress at all times,” Fullarton said.
“We’re always looking to bring in players for competition for places. I’m big on that. It’s important if you want to strive to be successful.
“Bringing in quality players of that level, that ilk, can only improve us, but we’re still at the very early stages regarding the possibility of bringing them (Clarke and Hanley) in.
“It’s the duck scenario, where you’re pedaling away madly underneath the surface but you’re gliding on top. It’s been like that since I came in, but it accelerated when the season finished.
“We’re still working very hard to improve the squad, add to the squad, so we have that competition throughout the squad.
“What we don’t want is suspensions, injuries or any other outside factors to impact and affect what we’re doing.
“The competition and quality in the squad is building nicely, in many areas we look strong, but there’s one or two we need to address, and trust me, I’m working hard at doing that.
“Yes, I am a secret squirrel. I’m not going to apologise for that. But being a secret squirrel doesn’t mean I’m not working my socks off.”
When asked if the other two trialists, one a centre-back and the other a striker, who featured on Saturday, may earn a permanent deal, Fullarton said: “Everyone that was involved today showed attributes and qualities that mean they will add to what we’re trying to do at the club.”
Fullarton didn’t put a number on how big his finished squad could be, adding: “I’ve touched on it regularly about how strategic you’ve got to be, and how creative you’ve got to be in how we cover certain areas and have players who are strong in one position but can fill in another, because that means you can increase the quality of player you bring in because you’re going with a smaller squad.
“As we approach the beginning of the season there are going to be players that become available, players we’ve identified, and there are lots of factors that will affect or impact how many we do bring in.”