THE Cambridge game had only finished an hour before and Mark Trueman was hunting for Ryan Sparks.

He wanted to borrow the chief executive’s keys to Valley Parade so that City’s coaches could come in the next day.

It was a bit warmer to do the pre-match prep for the trip to Grimsby in the stadium than at the training ground.

Midday Sunday and Trueman was ensconced in an office with Conor Sellars, the other half of the caretaking duo, performance analyst Robbie Bloodworth and Scott Dyer, who was brought in during the summer to sharpen the off-pitch work at academy level.

His elevation to the first-team set-up has been as sudden as the two currently taking charge.

The four of them were there for the next seven or eight hours going through video of the day before and formulating plans of how best to get at their next opponents.

The lights might have gone out on everybody else’s weekend but not theirs.

Trueman and Sellars had afforded themselves a celebratory lager after the final whistle on City’s first win for eight games.

But now it was back down to business and getting their heads together to map out the next stage of their remarkable rise to hot-seat duties.

Boxing Day’s visit to Tranmere was added to the agenda the following day, even before Grimsby had been seen off in gritty fashion. Such is the relentless schedule this season.

You won’t hear Trueman or Sellars grumbling – nor Sparks.

Promoting the duo had been a big call.

A section of the fanbase have questioned the suitability of the youngest chief executive in the game after Stuart McCall was sacked a couple of weeks on from being handed a contract extension.

But Sparks insisted he made the right decision to remove the club legend as City continued to drift towards the bottom of League Two.

And he was equally confident that the club would be in safe hands with his choice to take the helm in the immediate term.

There were easier options who could have taken the team.

Martin Drury, in charge for a week in between David Hopkin and Gary Bowyer, is still on the payroll. Vastly-experienced goalkeeping coach John Vaughan might have been another to turn to. 

But Sparks had seen and heard enough about the work Trueman and Sellars have been doing at age-group level to have the confidence to give them that opportunity.

A gamble from a decision-maker still finding his feet in his own role? Possibly, but not the long-shot that it may have appeared from the outside.

And, so far, it has worked a treat.

The young dynamic – Trueman is 32, Sellars 28 working with a 29-year-old chief executive – indicates a potentially fresh chapter for City.

The club are expected to announce a recruitment appointment shortly to work closely with the manager, whoever that may be.

A haul of seven points from nine – three more in three games than McCall picked up in his last 10 – has inevitably got tongues wagging.

It is the best record of any City caretaker boss ever and suddenly the conversation about where the next full-time gaffer will come from – and Paul Hurst remains waiting in the wings – now includes the present incumbents.

“I’m not a betting man so I wouldn’t say to put a fiver on me,” laughed Trueman.

“I’m employed by the club to keep improving the players within the building, whether that’s the (under) 18s or the first team.

“The club are happy with what we are doing so it helps give them time to make a decision.

“Conor and myself will just keep working hard to improve these group of players until we are told otherwise.”

A proper politician’s answer to the question of whether City should go down the same route as Cambridge and Leyton Orient who made their stand-ins permanent.

But the twinkle in Trueman’s eye underlines how much they are relishing the moment.

There are no buzz words in their interviews. The most common phrase is “hard work”, which crops up frequently whichever of them is talking.

Those long hours are paying off. Right now, they are getting a serious tune out of a team that were stuck in a downward spiral.

The magnitude of the turnaround in performance level has been staggering and it’s once more a much happier workplace.

Sellars stressed the importance of players feeling good about what they do.

He said: “No matter what anyone says, as a professional player you are an elite sportsman.

“You’ve done very well to get in that position and obviously got a lot of attributes that have allowed you to be a professional.

“Everybody has strengths and weaknesses but you are dealing with elite people who have worked hard to get to where they are. That can’t be forgotten as well.”

Smiles are slowly replacing scowls with supporters too. A year that most of us cannot wait to consign to the history books is providing an unexpectedly brighter ending.