Austen Diaper may have moved on against his wishes, but manager Kevin Grainger saw enough in Newmarket Town’s 1-0 win at Great Yarmouth Town on Saturday to remain upbeat.
Diaper joined the Jockeys in the summer of 2016 and he went on to find the net on 27 occasions in all competitions last term, adding a further 15 goals so far this campaign.
However, following an approach from his former club Godmanchester Rovers, the marksman has opted to return to Bearscroft Farm — the same move centre-back Charlie Bowen also recently completed.
Nevertheless, Newmarket started life without Diaper in positive fashion, with Jordan Lambert’s goal earning them all three points on the Norfolk coast.
The victory was all the more impressive given that injuries and unavailabilities meant Newmarket made the trip with only eight senior players.
And Grainger was delighted with the character his depleted side showed to move up to seventh in the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division.
“It was Austen’s decision to leave — we wanted to keep him,” said the Newmarket boss.
“It is a shame and there is no point pretending it is not a big loss.
“But we have to stick together and we showed on Saturday what we are all about.
“We had two reserves and an Under-18 player in the team, but everyone put in a great shift.
“We dug in, gave everything and in truth the result was never in doubt.”
Newmarket had won only three of their previous 13 games ahead of the Yarmouth clash, but Grainger is hopeful the positive result will lead to an upturn in form.
“You could see in the celebrations after the game that it was a massive weight lifted off everyone,” he added.
“We are not having the sort of season we expected, but now is the time to pull together. We had lads at Yarmouth that are up for the battle and if that continues we will keep moving up the table.”
Grainger’s men will have the opportunity to put back-to-back wins on the board with Ipswich Wanderers visiting the Bloorie.com Stadium on Saturday (3pm).
Second-from-bottom Wanderers go into the fixture in poor form, with the last of their two league victories this season coming back on September 9.
They also have problems in front of goal, having last found the net on November 15 — seven games ago. They have only scored 14 goals, to Newmarket’s 58 goals.
A leg injury has once again ruled out Jack Watson, with the captain not expected to return to action until January.
The recently-signed Nick Wilderspin is also at least four weeks away from recovering from a knee problem, but Adam Dalby could return to the squad.
After facing Wanderers, Newmarket will be reunited with Diaper and Bowen when Godmanchester are their visitors on Boxing Day (11am).
Going into this weekend’s round of matches, Newmarket and Godmanchester are locked on 41 points, with the Jockeys sitting one place higher by virtue of their superior goal difference.