Havelock North Wanderers were crowned Central Federation League soccer champions in Hastings this afternoon.
The Chris Greatholder and Bruce Barclay-coached Wanderers walloped last-placed Massey Men's First 5-2 in the Lotto-sponsored league at Guthrie Park in the village.
Captain Bjorn Christensen scored a hattrick of goals but the hosts didn't have it all their way despite the visitors from Palmerston North going down to 10 men in just the 25th minute after losing striker Ismael Mimbi to two yellow cards.
Mimbi deserved the first card after he hacked a player down late but the second one perhaps warranted a caution from Bay referee Gordon Harris because Christensen was guilty of driving into his back as well when the Massey player found himself sandwiched between two yellow shirts in a tussle for possession from a throw-in ball.
However, an aggressive player, Mimbi should have known better and kept out of contentious situations after picking his first yellow card.
All that doesn't detract from the fact that the predominantly youthful Wanderers deserved their bragging rights and the opportunity to roll the dice in a home-and-away, two-match series against Capital Football champions Waterside Karori early next month to gain promotion to the top-tier Lotto Central League.
Should the Wanderers succeed, they will join Conroy Removals Napier City Rovers as the second campaigners from the Bay in almost a decade.
Today's game unfolded through four seasons as the balmy 21C temperature plummeted dramatically shortly after the 1pm kick off, punctuated by wind-whipped sleety rain before halftime and then the sun returned with a vengeance midway through the second spell.
The first half was memorable for countless missed scoring opportunities, especially from the villagers.
Mimbi almost drew first blood in the 13th minute from an oblique angle as the Havelock defence gave him too much time and space but he drilled his shot from inside the box to the wrong side of the far upright.
It was Havelock striker Shannon Fowler's turn in the 21st minute when he beat several defenders, including Massey goalkeeper Finlay Le Marquand, but his attempt at pushing the ball into a gaping net clipped the left upright.
Right winger Liam Shackleton, who stood out as the hosts' player of the match, followed up on the deflection almost 20m out but his attempt sailed over the crossbar.
Christensen's finish also lacked lacquer in the 39th minute after Shackleton did all the hard work on his flank to deliver a cross to his skipper who pushed the ball outside the far post.
But Christensen didn't make that mistake into the stiff wind in the 44th minute, making Massey pay for a sloppy clearance of a cornerkick he had taken.
The red head worked the deflected ball along the goal line with consummate ease to drill it into the right-hand corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
But whatever Greatholder said in the changing room, the villagers found a spring in their steps and, noticeably, the individualism that was costing them territory and possession in the first half was down to a minimal.
Christensen struck again, 2-0, after Shackleton again became provider fro the left flank as the skipper directed the cross from about 8m in front of the goalmouth in the 53rd minute.
His hattrick goal came in the 60th minute after he deftly beat the offside trap amid howls of protest to referee Harris from Massey defenders.
To the visitors' credit, they didn't roll over and die. Taran Bublitz pulled it back to 3-1 when he caught Havelock keeper Shaun Peta on the wrong foot from an oblique shot past the near upright in the 72nd minute.
But the hosts remained composed to yield a freekick a few metres outside the top of the 18m box. Left wing Jackson Ralph stepped up to curl it over the Massey wall to increase the lead to 4-1.
If anyone deserved a goal, it was Shackleton who found the net, 5-1, in the 83rd minute from the right flank.
But the gutsy visitors, playing like they had nothing to lose, pulled another one back in the 86th minute, 5-2, through striker Luke Bryenton.
Massey coach Don Piper saluted the Wanderers because they were the most consistent in the league.
"They won the games that mattered so congratulations to Chris and the boys," Piper said.
He lamented losing Mimbi so early but felt his troops fought gallantly regardless.
"We pushed Havelock right to the end so I was proud of the attitude my boys showed," he said, believing the experience would do his players good in their quest to lift the title.
Piper, who entertained with witty exhanges with lippy home fans on the balcony, warmly wished the Wanderers all the best in their campaign to enter the Central League on September 2 and 9.