Napier City Rovers have kept their unblemished record intact after grinding out a victory against a stubborn Stop Out Sports Club at Park Island today.
In a counter-punching affair, the Thirsty Whale-sponsored Blues struck the first two blows but Stop Out just wouldn't go away - even after the winner in the 83rd minute for a 3-2 result at the Bluewater Stadium.
If the hosts had left their guard down in the first half to go into the changing rooms locked 2-2, they certainly had it up and kept the Wellingtonians camped for a lion's share of the second spell.
However, just the one late goal would have baffled many accountants trying to balance the books when juxtaposed with the numerous chances captain Fergus Neil and his men created in the second half.
"I think we dominated the game so we were realty disappointed to go in [at halftime] 2-all because we had dominated the first half and should have been two or three clear of them. But we switched off at times and it cost us two goals," said Neil, revealing the pep talk with coach Bill Robertson in the changing rooms was instrumental in keeping Stop Out scoreless during the second spell.
The rightback reiterated they were mindful Stop Out were a good side who invested in physicality.
"We knew we had to match that and not let them sort of bully us at all but we outplayed them today because we're a better footballing team than they are," he said.
Neil said his men had enough character and quality in the second half to keep their composure and patience to eventually find the winning goal.
The grinning skipper said the Rovers certainly intended to put games to bed much sooner than letting proceedings drag as they had in their past three outings.
Interestingly enough, Stop Out centreback James Sutcliffe felt they'd had the better of the second half despite not creating too many opportunities to score.
"I disagree with that," Sutcliffe said, albeit agreeing they didn't create too many clear-cut chances in the second spell. "I think in the first half we were the better team but we had to adjust a few things out of possession in the first half."
He said in the second spell Stop Out were better with the ball when they resorted to counter-attacks.
"There were a few lucky goals but when you come up here you have to take your chances and they [Rovers] did so they deserve to win."
Sutcliffe said the Blues had also resorted to long balls, which Stop Out goalkeeper James McPeake had nullified.
He saluted referee Jason Marshall and his assistants, including a 12-year-old, for their control of the game but the yellow cards against Stop Out hadn't upset the rhythm of the game as the visitors had tried to disrupt the Blues' structured approach with quality players.
McPeake made a great sliding save to deny veteran Andrew Abba, who hasn't lost his pace, after he had drilled a crisp shot from inside the 18m box in the 19th minute.
But the Solomon Islander didn't make that mistake again when he gave the ball a little more air and oomph from just about the same position to put the hosts up 1-0 in the 24th minute.
However, the Blues were still celebrating when the red and golds struck back with an equaliser, 1-1, from right winger Cameron McKenzie, who had latched on to a cross from the left flank soon after the restart in the 27th minute.
But the Rovers took back the lead thanks to centre-mid Gavin Hoy after a cross from left winger Jonathan McNamara had fortunately found him when striker Martin Bueno missed it as it whizzed by in the 35th minute. Hoy slipped it past McPeake for a 2-1 lead.
Yet again, Stop Out equalised 2-2 with another tit-for-tat goal, although this time it came from a penalty kick after centreback Liam Schofield came off fractionally late in a challenge at the top inside of the box to bring down Stop Out skipper Steven Gulley in the 38th minute.
Marshall hesitated for a couple of seconds amid howls of protest from the visitors before pointing to the spot. Gulley stepped up to send goalkeeper Kyle Baxter diving the wrong way.
The game came to a halt for a few minutes after Bueno needed some attention following a goalmouth melee where he had clipped his head trying to pounce on a loose ball near the left upright. The Uruguay golden boot from last season received some medical attention before carrying on.
Two minutes before halftime, McPeake again prevented Abba and Hoy putting Rovers ahead as Stop Out made hard work of clearing the ball.
The Wellingtonians started the second half with coach Scott Easthope injecting Jerram Tuck in place of veteran Luis Corrales in the engine room.
Perhaps the best opportunity to break the deadlock came when Hoy had only McPeake to slip the ball past from inside the 18m box but miscued it past the right upright in the 71st minute.
However, with the countless raids Rovers were mounting it was just a matter of time. They went ahead 3-2 with some pomp and ceremony from Bueno, who took a bow after poking the ball into the net from 8m in front of the goal in the 83rd minute.
With three yellow cards on Stop Out's backs, it wasn't surprising to see Soromon go for an early shower after fouling Bueno in the 89th minute. He had picked up his first yellow from a deliberate hand ball in the 23rd minute.
The ensuing free kick from Bueno clipped the upright and deflected out of harm's way, much to the visitors' relief.
The Rovers host Wairarapa United on Good Friday in a 2pm kick-off this week before hitting the highway against Wellington United from 3pm on Easter Monday the following week.