The New Saints boss Scott Ruscoe insists he never doubted his players after they came from behind to beat Newtown on Boxing Day, despite being down to 10 men.
Goals from Greg Draper, who was sent off two minutes later, Blaine Hudson and Ryan Brobbel gave TNS the win to open up a seven-point gap on their nearest rivals after Newtown led 2-0 at the break.
But Ruscoe was disappointed to lose his top scorer Draper who will now sit out three games while in the middle of a purple patch, and accepted the red card was the right decision.
“The message to the players at the break was keep doing what you’re doing,” he told TNS TV. “I thought we were good in the first half – they scored two goals and one was one they wouldn’t get nine times out of 10.
“But the ref decided it was a penalty so it is. The second goal came from us giving the ball away in their half and they’ve broken away and scored.
“They’ve had two chances and we’re two down at the break, but if you keep playing the same way and believe in the TNS way, we were always going to get chances in the second half.
“I told the lads not to panic and that we’d get a goal back; once that happens they will fold because we’re stronger and fitter.
“However, when you go down to 10 men as well as being 2-1 down, then you think it’s not your day. I still believed we could do it and that’s how it proved to be.
“Greg kicked out and you can’t do that in front of the referee. However you do it, whether it’s a tap or a kick out, it’s a three-game ban so we’re going to miss him.
“He’s been fantastic and scored all our goals recently. There’s a chance for someone else to come along and fill the void.”
TNS were brought level by Hudson’s superb effort from outside the box but Ruscoe admitted he nearly sacrificed the defender for a more attacking change, while also praising debutant Aaron Jones who was a late call-up for Paul Harrison.
He added: “A minute before Blaine struck his goal, we’d decided to bring him off and put another attacker on. As soon as he scored that, there was no way I was taking him off because it was one of the best goals you’ll see, especially from a defender.
“Aaron didn’t put a foot wrong on his debut and saved us from the draw at the end with a strong wrist. Paul was ill overnight but has been suffering for a week or so and hasn’t been able to eat or drink.
“It was an easy decision – if he can’t play, we use other members of the squad. Aaron didn’t have much time to think about it but it’s pleasing when young players come in and do well.”