Dagenham & Redbridge boss Ben Strevens had special praise for Omar Mussa following their 1-0 win over National League leaders Barnet.
Mussa was given his first start of the 2023-24 season, with Ryan Hill also making his belated debut, in two changes to the side from the defeat at Maidenhead.
And both players impressed before making way in the closing stages, with a late Nicke Kabamba own goal handing Daggers their first victory of the campaign.
“I said when I came in as manager, I’ve got to judge people on how they deserve it. If they train well, if their behaviour is good,” Strevens told the club website.
“Since Mussa has come back, we felt the environment to come back into was better for him to make the best of himself.
“He’s a polite boy, he wants to do well. The frustrations he had last year with not playing as much, things going on, I don’t know, he’s a young lad, learning all the time.
“I believe wherever he has been before last year he has been a regular starter, so maybe that affected him a little bit.”
Mussa had been given minutes off the bench at Maidenhead, as Daggers fell to a 1-0 loss, and Strevens said he saw enough in that cameo to include him from the start against the Bees.
“I liked the fact he came on at Maidenhead and said ‘give me the ball’ and I wanted to see a bit more of that, so that’s why I put him in there,” he added.
“And he did really well, I’m really pleased for him, obviously 70th minute, he’s not played, we had to get him off. He probably didn’t want to come off but I had to protect him.
“We’ve got another game coming up [on Monday], it was the same with Hilly, they’ve both been out, and I didn’t want anything to happen in the last 15-20 minutes and I thought Syd [Ibie] and Reesy [Josh Rees] could come on and cause them problems as well.”
Hill had looked good during pre-season following his move from Eastleigh, before being sidelined with injury.
And Strevens is hoping the 25-year-old can play a key role moving forwards, having finally got his chance to perform in front of a home crowd.
“He’s infectious, in terms of in training and in games, he’s always wanting to be on the front foot, always trying to get after people,” added Strevens.
“I need to help him with his decision-making, I’ve always said that – when to try and beat someone, when to not.
“He’s been a big miss and we’ve not really made a big deal of it because no-one has really seen him but that is probably the first time the fans have seen him at home in Dagenham.
“I know what the people want to see, they want to see hard-working lads that might not get things right every single time but they’re trying to show they’re passionate to play for the team. I think they saw that with him.
“[Danny] Collinge has done really well on him, I thought he was probably their best player and he had to be because Hilly every time he got it was trying to be positive and direct.
“And he didn’t really want to come off but his calves were a bit tight so we were just like ‘get him off’. I don’t want to get him injured, we’ve missed him for five weeks, get him off, Syd is ready to go.
“Mussa and Hilly added different characteristics today and both did really well.”