Ten man Exeter City were beaten 1-0 by Phil Brown's Preston North End this afternoon but put in a performance described by Paul Tisdale as probably their best away display at this level.
The City boss wasn't just putting managerial spin on defeat at Deepdale, this was a very encouraging display especially given that the Grecians had to play with ten men for 66 minutes after Steve Tully's harsh red.
Exeter's number two was deemed to have pulled back former Liverpool striker Neil Mellor, referee Nigel Miller sent Tully off but Artur Krysiak saved Graham Alexander's spot-kick.
Jamie Proctor's header found a way past the Pole on 41 minutes for the only goal of the game but then the Grecians took control and looked like the side with a full compliment of players.
James Dunne's right-footed shot thumped off the crossbar, Dan Nardiello's shot was cleared off the line and strike partner Guillem Bauza hit the side netting.
It wasn't City's day but it gave the travelling faithful plenty to be positive about with Liverpool, 2-0 winners at Arsenal today, on the horizon.
Paul Tisdale made three changes from the defeat to Brentford. Liam Sercombe picked up a thigh problem on Tuesday night so he was replaced by Billy Jones while Nardiello and Bauza played together for the first time.
It meant City lined up with a back four, then Noble behind Dunne and Scott Golbourne with Chris Shephard pulling the strings behind the new look strike duo.
Golbourne, finding himself in an unfamiliar position (not for the last time this afternoon), had the first real opening for City on three minutes. After a good move the former Reading man's back post cross went out of play.
Dunne had the away side's next opening after Bauza found him on the right hand flank but he couldn't trouble Iain Turner. And the Spanish striker, making his first Exeter start, was involved again on nine minutes - Troy went on a storming run and slipped in City's number 21 who went round the keeper out on the byline and sent a cross to the back post which neither Golbourne or Nardiello could connect with.
The latter had an optimistic long shot shortly after before the defining moment of the match on 22 minutes. Welsh winger Paul Parry's cross was tipped towards the far post by Krysiak where Doyle Middleton swing a ball into the box towards Mellor, the big striker went down and referee Miller deemed Tully had pushed him, awarded the spot kick and sent Tully off.
Graham Alexander, back at Preston after four years at Burnley, stepped up for the 74th penalty of his 20 year career (having only missed five) but his thumping penalty was straight at Krysiak who had stayed in the middle of his goal.
City responded by re-jigging the side slightly with Golbourne filling in at right-back. It was a devastating blow for Everton fan Tully who will miss the visit of Liverpool to The Park on Wednesday night.
Troy and Richard Duffy continued to excel in the centre of defence and the latter did very well to turn Parry's low cross over his own cross bar just after the half hour mark.
But the City defence were breached on 41 minutes when Duffy's fellow countryman Parry whipped in a free-kick, controversially given for a foul by Chris Shephard, and Proctor rose to flick a header into the far corner.
Krysiak's stop from Parry's free-kick turned out to be the last action of an open first half and Tisdale was left with plenty to ponder.
His side continued to improve as the game wore on and Phil Brown's side were given a warning side on 50 minutes. Nardiello went on a mazy run from the left-hand flank and teed up Dunne who smacked a 20 yard shot which flew off the crossbar.
And Nardiello had a great chance to draw the sides level from the resulting corner. He tried to smuggle the ball home from close range but couldn't get enough power behind his effort and Clark Carlisle cleared off the line.
Krysiak was arguably City's star man this afternoon and he made the save of the match shortly after. A low cross hit Mellor in the centre of the box and the Pole's legs kept out his effort from near point blank range.
He then did well to hold a Preston free-kick and was alert and off his line to deny Proctor.
City had long spells of possession as the half wore on, putting together some great moves and limiting the XI men to half chances. And they began to create opportunities of their own. On 74 minutes Golbourne slipped in Bauza down the right hand flank and his shot went into the side netting from the angle before a long range effort from the Spaniard flew over the bar.
The Grecian strikers both played 90 minutes, a very pleasing sign ahead of Liverpool and Chesterfield and although they couldn't carve out another clear cut chance there was plenty of positives from fans and staff alike after the final whistle.
City supporters may have feared the worst when they went a goal and a man down but their side put in a fantastic display from front to back.
No points but plenty of reasons to be optimistic.