The hectic post-Fifa Club World Cup schedule is taking such a toll on Auckland City players that coach Ramon Tribulietx gave them a day off training midweek in the build-up to tomorrow's ASB Premiership home game against Waikato FC.
"We've had a lot of games in the second half of the season," said Tribulietx. "It's been a big demand on the players, especially those with fulltime jobs."
Tribulietx admits it's probably played a part in conceding seven goals in their last three games. "That, and losing key players like Angel Berlanga in the transfer window ... While we've talked about the goals we let in, some [were] not necessarily the result of attacking play by the opposition."
While top spot in the minor premiership is out of reach, City's sights are set on second and taking any advantage that might bring in the playoffs. There could be a bonus if they win at Kiwitea St and if influential captain Ivan Vicelich gets through the game without a yellow card.
Sitting on three, he would miss a game with a fourth and while Tribulietx insists there's no thought of Vicelich deliberately picking up a fourth tomorrow and missing the final regular season game. The coach said he might rest Vicelich from next week's Palmerston North trip if they claimed second spot tomorrow.
Waikato FC will find it tough. Goalless in six games this year and scoring just four while conceding 25 doesn't make happy reading.
One place off the bottom, the visitors face a big ask against a team with plenty to play for.
Even though unbeaten Waitakere United have wrapped up their fifth minor premiership, coach Paul Marshall insists there'll be no let-up. United are away to Hawkes Bay United in the most crucial game of the round. Hawkes Bay must win to maintain their challenge for second place while Waitakere want to get through their last two games unscathed.
Marshall is without the suspended Tim Myers and injured David Mulligan, Daniel Morgan, Sam Mathews and Roy Krishna, but will still put out a useful team led by midfield general Jake Butler.
"We have Chad Coombes and Luis del Monte back so we'll be okay."
Elsewhere, Otago are in Invercargill to play Team Wellington and Canterbury United entertain YoungHeart Manawatu.
*Auckland City v Waikato FC