Craig Harrison today sent out an order to his Hartlepool United players: Don’t let this standard drop.
The new boss saw Pools come within seconds of gaining a 1-1 draw with Sunderland, only for the Championship promotion candidates to snatch a last-minute winner.
Pools looked set for a deserved draw after Ryan Donaldson brought his side level after Josh Maja’s first-half penalty.
But sub Jeremain Lens beat Scott Loach with a brilliant free-kick at the death to inflict a second successive 2-1 friendly defeat for Pools.
But Harrison was delighted with the way his National League side competed and has told the squad they have now set a benchmark.
“I said the lads ‘that’s the standard now’,” the 39-year-old told SportMail.
“Drop any lower and they will have me on their backs.
“Everyone worked hard and all the lads took on board what we had worked on and stuck to the game-plan.
“We looked after the ball well, passed it, showed good rotation.
“There was some good forward play, scored a great goal, had a couple of good opportunities and at times put them on the back foot.”
Harrison missed a number of players likely to be in first-team contention, such as Jake Cassidy, Nicky Deverdics, Nicky Featherstone and Luke George, to name just four.
And his team performed really well at Victoria Park against a club who brought over £42million of talent off the bench during the second period.
Harrison admitted he found defeat hard to take, even though it was ‘only’ a friendly.
“It does hurt, especially the manner of the defeat.
“To be fair, the lad scores a world-class free-kick into the top corner - two keepers wouldn’t have saved that.
“It was just the build-up really and could we have done better to have prevented that situation?
“But you look at the overall performance and every player was absolutely fantastic against a real quality side.
“We were excellent from start to finish, we played some good football. I could not speak any more highly of the lads.
“Some of the combination play was very good and we played in the right areas.
“I’m a perfectionist and there are things we need to look at, but I’ve got to say I’m very pleased with how we played.”
There was one down side to a good evening in front of a bumper near 5,000 crowd – injuries.
Harrison had rested Nicky Deverdics after taking a slight knock at Harrogate Town, while it was decided fellow Nicky, Featherstone, would have a full week’s training as he returns to full fitness after recovering from a hernia op.
Jake Cassidy (hamstring), Luke George (calf) and Devante Rodney (hip) all sat out the match and Harrison was disappointed to lose Rhys Oates and Liam Donnelly last night.
Donnelly had come on as a sub for Conor Newton, only to come off himself soon after with a dead leg.
“Rhys has tweaked his groin,” said Harrison. “Liam collided with Scott Harrison and is sore.
“That’s an impact injury so he’ll be just three or four days max, but we’ll have to assess Rhys with his being a muscle injury.”