Hawke's Bay United will need military precision to make the playoffs after succumbing 2-1 away to Team Wellington this afternoon.
The proud history of the Hawke's Bay franchise soccer team of making the ISPS Handa Premiership in the three previous seasons under coach Brett Angell collected another dent at Porirua Park, Wellington.
Angell had pre-match emphasised the need for his troops to clinch six wins out of seven remaining games but it became an even taller order as they were reduced to playing catch-up footy after finding themselves 2-0 down in the second half after a scoreless first spell.
In some respects, that goal margin stung the visitors into action to raise what-ifs had the players shown similar intensity and commitment from the opening whistle although it's hard to say what the blueprint was in the changing rooms.
An injury to import Samuel Adjei, just outside the 10-minute mark, didn't help Bay United's lofty ambitions anymore than a visibly lumpy park, also named after the late All Black Jerry Collins.
Team Wellington went into the match emphasising they had an entire "local" starting XI, including Hawke's Bay-born Andy Bevin and Angus Kilkolly as well as former Bay United players Nathanael Hailemariam and Mario Alberto Barcia, an Argentine midfielder.
Adjei got a clean run after a through ball from rightback Hayden McHenery on counterattack but Wellington goalkeeper Scott Basalaj got his fingertips to the rising shot from inside the 18m box with defenders on his heels in the fourth minute.
Ghanaian/American striker Adjei, though, hobbled off after trying to back heel a ball from the attacking goal line in the 11th minute in just his third appearance after overcoming a hamstring on arriving in Napier in November.
Hastings-born Bjorn Christensen, his replacement, was caught on the hop on the bench as he hurriedly started strapping up his ankle.
The hosts eventually started taking control of the game with Bevin calling the shots and Kilkolly finding some impetus on attack.
The visitors got another good break from Canadian import Wesley Cain in the 36th minute but after beating his defender and surging into the 18m box the right winger unselfishly chipped the ball square to Christensen who, like Cain, didn't back himself to pull the trigger.
The substitute striker curled a high ball back about 20m out but neither Adam Thurston nor Gavin Hoy seemed interested as Hailemariam simply sped off with the ball.
McHenery again showed his versatility as he latched on to a well-timed cross from centre-mid Alex Palezevic on the right flank to push a square pass but a sliding Hoy couldn't turn it into the goal mouth near the far post although Christensen trapped it on the left flank with no returns.
That was a classic case of team work which started with centre-mid Birhanu Taye, went to Thurston before Cain deftly pushed it to Palezevic.
Wellington centre-mid Jack-Henry Sinclair gave the Bay side a few palpitations from about 25m out in the centre of the field in the second minute of four minutes of added time in the first half for their best chance but the sides couldn't break the deadlock by halftime.
When play resumed, Wellington defender Roy Kayara came under some scrutiny after Hoy went down 5m in front of the goal in the 49th minute but referee Nick Waldron waved play on.
Kilkolly had Bay United goalkeeper Ruben Parker Hanks stretching after a calling card from 25m out three minutes later.
Cain and Thurston tried to sort out their differences on what the vision was in the 55th minute after the winger pushed a ball into the stock exchange but not close enough for Thurston to make a run for it as Christensen loomed outside Thurston.
Wellington leftback Sekou Diana picked up a yellow card in the 57th minute after bringing down Cain from behind.
In the next five minutes the hosts mounted raids on the Bay goalmouth, amid cries of foul from both parties as the physicality stakes went up.
Wellington coach Jose Figueira injected English import Ross Allen into the mix in the 60th minute with the 30-year-old striker boasting all sorts of goal-scoring records from division-one Gurnsey FC.
Seven minutes after absorbing more artillery, Hoy put Bay United on the counterattack on the left flank with a ball to Christensen who flicked it to Thurston. Basalaj had to dive to parry the shot from 20m out but Christensen couldn't plant the ball into the net with the keeper still lying on the ground from the deflection. The ball just zipped wide of the left upright.
Team Wellington broke the deadlock, 1-0, in the 70th minute after New Caledonia player Kayara rose unopposed to nod a ball down into the net from a cornerkick for his maiden premiership goal.
It was a soft goal that would have had captain Bill Robertson seething after he had marshalled his defenders with urgency and commitment up to that point.
Angell pulled out Thurston and injected latest signing Sam De St Croix, former Hamilton Wanderers English import midfielder, and also replaced tireless McHenery with James Hoyle three minutes later.
The body language wasn't good from Bay United as Kayara became provider in the 75th minute, winning a ball in the air with no challenge from Hoy. Kilkolly took control, turned and skinned leftback Jorge Akers before deftly putting an acute cross to newcomer Allen who showed how the ball should be tucked away from inside the box into the left-hand corner for a 2-0 lead.
Catch-up footy crept into the visitors' game after that as Hoy took a pot shot from just outside the 18m box through busy traffic but the ball sailed over the crossbar.
It was Christensen's turn next after a surging Akers ran with the ball to fortuitously find him but no cigar.
However, just as Allen did on debut, De St Croix pulled one back to 2-1 in the 85th minute after Akers took the ball to the goal line and curled it to the far right upright where Hoy nodded it back to the substitute midfielder to drill past Basalaj.
Diana had a brain explosion, putting his side under more pressure in the 90th minute when he collected his second yellow card for a dumb studs-up tackle on Cain trying to cross the ball.
Four minutes of time was added but the ensuing freekick from Akers on the right flank was an anti-climax.
Taye took a drive in the 93rd minute from about 20m out but Basalaj was equal to the occasion.
Hoy reloaded amid more desperation to strike Lotto, as it were, but Bay United came away empty handed from Porirua.