Paul Hartley thinks Saturday’s narrow 1-0 loss at Connah’s Quay Nomads was a great advert for Cove Rangers.
The League Two leaders had a break from their debut season in the Scottish league, taking on Welsh outfit Nomads at Deeside Stadium in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup.
Michael Bakare got the better of Cove keeper Stuart McKenzie from a free-kick late on to send the home side into the fourth round.
Still, Hartley was pleased with how the Granite City side pushed Connah’s Quay by continuing to play passing football in the face of a more industrial opponent.
He said: “I thought we were very good and acquitted ourselves well.
“We were the better team – especially second half – and played some good stuff. We created some good opportunities.
“Disappointed to lose the goal and get beat, but overall we stood up to the challenges they threw at us.
“We knew how they would play, and the players handled it well and wanted to pass it.”
The boss – who tried to combat the home side by playing three centre-backs – added: “We know we can do better with the goal, but we won’t blame anyone. These things happen.
“I was pleased with the desire the players showed not to get beat.
“We changed the shape on Saturday because we knew we were against a physical team who play a lot of long balls.
“We went toe to toe with them. They beat Kilmarnock (in Europa League qualifying) and we could’ve beat them.”
Cove’s game with last year’s beaten Challenge Cup finalists was beamed live on S4C – the first live televised game in their history.
It was another big moment for the promoted Highland champions, but Hartley thinks they coped well as attention turns back to two important away league clashes.
He said: “It’s the first time the club’s been on TV and I know there were a lot of places showing it.
“The players didn’t let themselves down. They showed they’re a good footballing team and we can handle ourselves, we just couldn’t get a goal.
“All our focus is on the league, cups are great, but they’re a bonus. We’ve had a strong start.”
Cove return to League Two action against Brechin at Glebe Park on Saturday before a trip to Elgin.
Midfielder Fraser Fyvie, absent because of a family matter, should return for those games.
The first effort of note for Cove in Wales came on 13 minutes.
Matty Smith just failed to tuck his 17-yard effort inside the post from the right angle after Jamie Masson’s wonderful outside-of-the-boot cross-field pass.
On the half hour mark, Nomads’ Michael Wilde rose to head a Nathan Woolfe cross at the back post, but couldn’t steer his effort inside the upright.
It was a first half Cove edged, with the visitors making more effort to play with the ball on the deck.
On 59 minutes, Declan Glass came close to finding the roof of Nomads keeper Lewis Brass’ net from the byline on the right, before Mitch Megginson’s strike from 10 yards was blocked by Wilde at the front post.
Masson then blasted just over twice as Cove pushed hard for the opener. On 64 minutes, Smith broke at speed down the right and – under pressure from Nomads’ Callum Roberts five yards from goal – smacked the ball off the outside of the near post.
There was a scare for Cove with 25 minutes left – Priestley Farquharson’s shot from range ricocheting through several bodies and just wide, while home skipper George Horan hit McKenzie’s side netting from the resulting corner.
Callum Morris had an effort blocked on 74 minutes as Connah’s Quay worked their way back into things.
And Bakare got the vital first goal from a unlikely free-kick very wide on the right a minute later – catching McKenzie by surprise as he curled in at the front post left-footed.