The game was always going to have a sense of knockout cup desperation about it and the two sides didn't disappoint in Hamilton today.
Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United and Hamilton Wanderers traded shot for shot in OK Coral-type fashion before they had to settle for a 4-all stalemate and a point each in the week 18 round of the ISPS Handa Premiership match at Porritt Stadium.
When the gun smoke settled within the first 15 minutes, sixth-placed Bay United led 3-2 and maintained that edge into halftime although they were lucky not to concede more goals to the fifth-placed hosts who had beaten them 2-0 first up in the national summer league at Bluewater Stadium, Napier.
The Brett Angell-coached Bay United missed out on three points to leapfrog Hamilton while the Ricki Herbert-mentored side missed out on edging within another win of catching up with Team Wellington in fourth place on 22 points.
Akin to Wellington Phoenix in the A-League, the defences from both sides were still suffering from a festive Christmas hangover of exchanging gifts.
Angell lamented his troops scoring four goals away from home but coming away with a point.
"That would have been good enough to win any game but, unfortunately, the gremlins struck again," he said, ruing the two goals Bay United conceded from set pieces (cornerkick and freekick).
The Englishman said balls falling into the box weren't dealt with well enough.
"If we deal with the initial ball coming in then we don't have to deal with it at that point but I keep saying it week after week so it's just very, very frustrating."
He felt the second half Bay United lacked the gut instincts to "kill off the game". Captain Birhanu Taye and his men were guilty of standing off to wait for the game to take some sort of shape rather than taking ownership.
"I think we need to start taking a bit of responsibility from the start," he said. "If we do our jobs correctly than we stop the opposition from scoring and if we do that we're capable of creating scoring opportunities."
The mounting frustrations this summer had prompted Angell to change the formation slightly to give Bay United the leeway to find more solidity but it didn't work although the weak underbelly hadn't been exposed from open play but set-piece ones today.
More rigid man-to-man marking was necessary, he said, something he would be able to better ascertain after watching the videotape later next week.
Bay United defensive left midfielder Jorge Akers drew first blood in just the fourth minute when he bobbed and weaved into the 18m box, calling the bluff of two Hamilton defenders before slipping the ball past goalkeeper Jonathan Mannes for a 1-0 lead.
Two minutes later, last winter's Napier City Rovers Uruguayan import striker Martin Bueno, playing as a centre-mid, headed the ball in to level 1-all from a cornerkick for his eighth goal of the season, seconds before a sloppy defensive melee in the box, to leave Bay goalkeeper Alexander Britton no chance.
Bueno's Rovers teammate, Wanderers skipper James Hoyle gifted an own goal under defensive pressure after tracking back Bay United left winger Sho Goto but only toeing the ball past Mannes from the ensuing square cross to striker Sam Mason-Smith on the far post to put the visitors up 2-1 in the 10th minute. Goto certainly needed to pull the trigger more often then trying to thread it to others.
The goal of the game came from Papua New Guinea international Tommy Semmy, who was a handful with fellow striker Derek Tieku, when he defied gravity to volley a deft cross from the left flank to leave Britton rooted for the 2-all result and his eighth goal of the summer.
But Mason-Smith wasn't done, making good a pinpoint cross to him from almost point-blank range on the far right upright to nudge Bay United ahead 3-2 after another superb cross across the face of the goalmouth from Japan import Goto on the left flank in the 14th minute.
Several oohs and aahs followed but the score remained intact into halftime.
It wasn't until the 58th minute in the second spell that Wanderers right winger Stafford Dowling did an Akers weaving manoeuvre to leave Bay defenders chasing shadows before drilling the ball past Britton to level, 3-all.
The Blues emphatically snuck ahead 4-3 from a Bueno brace when he curled a ball over a suspect defensive wall following free kick in the 77th minute. Grabbing their crotches and pinching their noses in anticipation of a blow, four of the five-member wall totally forgot to jump in unison as the ball sailed over them.
Soon after Angell yanked off Frenchman Maxime Oliveri to inject youngster Luis Toomey into the engine room, in the face of Bay United trailing for the first time in the game.
He followed up with Josh Murphy's fresh legs for a spent Ben Lack on the right wing-back position.
Mason-Smith appealed for a penalty kick in the 87th minute but referee CK Kawana-Waugh deemed it to be a 50/50 challenge from the Hamilton goalkeeper.
Angell's moves paid dividends when substitute Gavin Hoy curled a ball from an oblique angle from about 25m out in the 89th minute to level terms, 4-all. Corey Chettleburgh had crossed from deep on the sideline of the right flank but Mannes had punched the ball to Hoy on the opposite flank.
The Wanderers came close to scoring from substitute Maybin in the final third minute of added time but Britton thwarted seconds before the final whistle.
It's another litmus test for Bay United in the coming Sunday when they host Team Wellington at Park Island in a 1pm kick off.