CENTRE-BACK Tom Gardner admits it was a blow to see defensive partner Paul Kendall leave Tiverton Town, but feels he and Adam Faux still make a solid combination.
Former Plymouth Argyle trainee Kendall swapped Ladysmead for Treyew Road two weeks ago, after forming an imperious partnership with Gardner over the past two seasons.
Midfielder Kevin Hill has often filled in at the heart of the defence when needed, but a hamstring injury sustained in the 2-2 draw away to Shortwood United last week has ruled him out for the foreseeable future.
That means Gardner is now playing alongside former captain Faux – in and out of the side since sustaining a head injury in May 2011 – although he is unsure if he will be his next long-term defensive partner.
"I don't know what the plan is long-term – I haven't really spoken to the manager about it yet," said Gardner, who scooped the man-of-the-match award during Tivvy's 2-1 home defeat to Cirencester Town on Saturday.
"I'm not sure if he will play Hilly in the centre with me once he is fit or stick with Ads (Faux).
"Ads has said himself that he is not really a natural centre-back but he's been good to play with so far. He has dropped back and allowed me to go in to win headers and he just clears up anything behind me and it has worked well."
Gardner's understanding with Kendall was central to Tivvy conceding a miserly 42 league goals last season – the fifth-best record in the division – as the Yellows secured a ninth-placed finish.
A mixture of excellent aerial ability and full-blooded commitment again saw Gardner and Kendall combine well for the first half of the campaign, and Gardner concedes it is a shame that Kendall has chosen to leave.
"I was disappointed to see him move on. We formed quite a good defensive partnership over a couple of years," Gardner said.
"But he has gone on to play at a Conference side and you can't knock him for that.
"I suppose we were quite similar in the way that we played because we were both happy to chuck ourselves in the way of things. We got used to playing with each other over time. It is like anything, sometimes you just hit it off with people."
With their league form floundering and their play-off hopes fading fast, the sooner Tivvy can find a winning combination the better.
Tivvy have now gone 13 games in all competitions without a win ahead of the Devon St Luke's Bowl match with Exeter City at Ladysmead tonight (Tuesday), with manager Mark Saunders expected to field a strong side.
And Gardner admitted to being as confused as anyone as to the Yellows' dip in form.
"It must be very frustrating for the fans, Mark and (assistant-manager) Hedley (Steele) because we are not playing well and I can't put my finger on why," he said. "It is strange because, last Tuesday against Shortwood, even though we went 2-0 down we were still very good and were getting the ball down well and we got it back to 2-2. Unfortunately, on Saturday we just didn't do that again and we lost the game.
"I think that's now 12 (league) games without a win and that must be playing on everybody's minds a little bit. When we do win though, it will be a massive weight off our shoulders."