They went toe to toe with the best but ultimately came up with nothing.

But what Sunday's 2-1 loss to Taradale AFC did reveal was a Football Whanganui side which looks to have stepped up a gear from an inaugural wooden spoon season.

Whanganui briefly led last year's champions before the Hawkes Bay side quickly struck back with two goals to win 2-1 at Wembley Park.

The loss followed a 2-0 GR Engineering Women's Federation League opening round defeat to Massey University on the previous Sunday.

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But two losses to open the season is no reason to panic for this side.

It took Whanganui 14 games to win one last year and new coach Matthew Calvert said there were good signs the wait won't be as long this time around.

"We're giving the good teams a good run and I think the quality of the league this year is stronger," he said.

"It's all about changing perception for us because at the end of the day we're seen as the whipping girls of this league and I think we're slowly but surely changing that perception.

"But you can only change perception by winning games and unfortunately we haven't done that. We're not far off but it's just the little margins."

Those margins are around cleaner finishing because, against Taradale, Whanganui were quick and decisive enough to get regular time on the ball in front of goal - something they struggled to do in 2017.

It led to taking a deserved lead.

Skipper Vanya Apiata-Hodgkinson put the home side in front with a 31st-minute free kick which dipped down on Taradale keeper Shelley Cameron and slipped between her fingers and the ground to trickle over the line.

But if the visitors were surprised, they weren't daunted.

Five minutes later they had restored parity and it took just 120 more seconds to find what turned out to be a winner.

Alex Dickenson chipped Whanganui keeper Megan O'Connor, who got a hand to it, before Casey Ralph then drilled one past the diving O'Connor for the goal of the match.

While the score didn't move in the second 45 minutes, there were plenty of opportunities.

Apiata-Hodgkinson should have had a brace late in the match with just the keeper Cameron to beat, but couldn't get a strong enough shot away before Charlotte Lancaster rattled the cross bar for the visitors.

Calvert said it was a good effort from Whanganui who, on another day, could have got points from the game.

"We started the game well, we've moved the ball well and created chances and took the lead and I thought we deservedly did," he said.

"They hit us on the counter very well and they got in behind us and it's just that five minutes where you switch off and they punish you and that's what happens when you play the top teams.

"I think in the second half we certainly came out better than them and to be fair they were resolute, they defended really well and on another day we could've got another goal but I'm not going to batter our team for anything like that. They've done well."

Whanganui's Rose Davidson (right) tussles with Taradale's Charlotte Lancaster in the visitors' 2-1 win at Wembley Park on Sunday. Photo / Bevan Conley
Whanganui's Rose Davidson (right) tussles with Taradale's Charlotte Lancaster in the visitors' 2-1 win at Wembley Park on Sunday. Photo / Bevan Conley

Whanganui have brought largely the same squad into their second season with a few additions, including Rose Davidson, Alice Hetherington and Paula Chittenden.

"[They] have really added a lot of quality to the team and that showed a lot more. We had a lot of presence going forward," Calvert said.

With the withdrawal of Palmerston North Marist just five clubs make up the 12-round league with teams to play each other three times.

Whanganui ended 2017 with four points with just one win and a draw from 15 games but Calvert said their goal this year was a double-digit points haul and to avoid the spoon.

On Sunday's evidence that is entirely possible.

"But they have to realise the steps that they need to take," Calvert said.

"They've learned a lot from last year but then it's just that killer instinct that they're still lacking. Unfortunately going forward we've created chances but not taken them.

"You know, they scored two goals but they're very easily preventable and at the moment we make a mistake and we're getting punished for it. Other teams aren't making mistakes and that's the difference."

Calvert said the players needed to be more ruthless when getting scoring opportunities.

"We've just not got that at the moment. Realistically, the one on one, you should be scoring that."

Matthew Calvert has taken on coaching duties for the Football Whanganui Women's Federation League side. Photo / Bevan Conley
Matthew Calvert has taken on coaching duties for the Football Whanganui Women's Federation League side. Photo / Bevan Conley

Another change this year is a restriction of three players per week being allowed to drop down to play for their club on Saturdays which should mean fresher legs for the combined side on Sundays.

Last year players were backing up in Federation League, having played the previous day for their club.

In Sunday's other match league leaders Moturoa AFC beat New Plymouth Girls High School 1-0 in New Plymouth.

Whanganui are not in action again until they host NPGHS on May 6.