Waitakere United's hopes of an unbeaten run through the ASB Premiership regular season came crashing down with a limp 3-2 loss to Canterbury United yesterday.
Auckland City came from a goal down to cruise home 4-1 away to YoungHeart Manawatu while Waikato FC handed coach Mark Cossey his third win with a strong 3-1 home effort against Otago United.
In losing to City, Manawatu finished bottom of the table for a third straight season.
In the Saturday fixture, Hawkes Bay did not have the semifinal dress-rehearsal they wanted, beaten 4-2 away by Team Wellington.
Comparing it with the rousing 3-0 win away to Hawkes Bay a week earlier, Waitakere coach Paul Marshall said the results, and performance, were "chalk and cheese". Waitakere were never in front and ended the match one short after Daniel Jones was sent off.
The home team also lost Aaron Scott and Brian Shelley to injury although Marshall is confident both will be available for selection against Hawkes Bay. He also hopes Roy Krishna, Daniel Morgan and Masaki Nomoto will be ready to return and obviously has changes in mind.
"We have got players coming back but there will be no excuses for anyone who gets dropped after when we saw today," said Marshall. "I don't think any player was above a six [out of 10]."
Down by a goal after 10 minutes as Canterbury captain Aaron Clapham converted from the penalty spot, the home side had a like chance - after an equally soft penalty call by referee Nick Waldron - but Allan Pearce had his shot saved by Adam Highfield. From the resultant corner, fired to the far post by Chad Coombes, substitute Milos Nikolic got on the end of a driven Jake Butler cross to equalise.
Early in the second half, the ever-likely Russell Kamo cashed in on some poor Waitakere defensive play to score. In stoppage time he stretched the lead to 3-1 before the visitors conceded a lame late own goal. It was the first time this season Waitakere conceded three goals.
"Play-offs here we come," said Canterbury coach Keith Braithwaite. "Happy with that, a good game with both teams having chances."
A below-strength Auckland City fell behind in the fourth minute at Memorial Park when Dale Higham pounced on a good ball from Tom Mosquera. Emiliano Tade goals either side of halftime - the second from the spot - put City ahead.
Manel Exposito and Daniel Saric completed City's 10th win of the season to put them in a winning frame of mind for their trip to Christchurch for the first leg of that semifinal.
Waitakere U 2 Canterbury U 3
Waikato FC 3 Otago U 1
Manawatu 1 Auckland City 4
Wellington 4 Hawkes Bay U 2