They looked dead and buried but, just as they had done in the playoffs, the Blue army trampled the red one to claim Napier City Rovers' milestone fifth Chatham Cup bragging rights in Auckland today.
The Thirsty Whale-sponsored Rovers came from 1-0 down to break Melville United hearts in the last 10-plus minutes of the match to etch their names on the knockout cup for football supremacy in the country with a passionate 3-2 victory at North Harbour Stadium.
All the live TV and freelance shots were on Melville potentially claiming their maiden crown but the smattering of Bluewater Stadium faithful came into focus as the worm turned not long after torrential rain took hold late in the second half.
"It's really huge for the club and this group of players as well because we had set our sights at the start of the season and we've gone out to achieve that," said player/coach Bill Robertson from the changing room as his troops enjoyed a beer.
"We have a tradition with the Chatham Cup at Napier City Rovers so these boys have become part of that history now."
The Rovers invested in long balls for most of the first spell while the Melville trio of foraging Welshman — Josh Davies, Marc Evans and Craig Pritchard — combined well with Federico Marquez to create havoc in the Blues' box to keep right wing back Jamie Wilkinson and centreback Kaeden Atkins back pedalling in defence.
The halftime statistics lent credence with possession, territory and other facets, such as shots at goal, favouring the red army as Rovers goalkeeper Joshua Hill again played the hand of footballing gods.
The blue brigade lacked imagination in their attacking third and seemed reluctant to push forward for fear of conceding a goal on counterattacks.
Robertson revealed a few things weren't working and they were sitting too deep defensively.
TV commentators Fred de Jong and Harry Ngata had alluded to how Uruguayan striker Martin Bueno and Solomon Islands international Andrew Abba were coming off the bench for Napier in the crucial cup matches and today was no exception. It was a ploy that had served captain James Hoyle and his men quite well.
The Blues injected Bueno at the start of the second half for veteran striker Joshua Stevenson and Abba in the 54th minute for Wilkinson.
"Look it was a genuine decision to use them as back up off the bench and we've done that a few times now," Robertson said, revealing injecting the pair when the opposition looked lethargic had worked previously.
"Again I felt they made the difference with their impact so that has been a big gamble and it's been a tactical decision with so many quality players on the bench but it's shown in the semifinal and paid off today."
Melville went up 1-0 when the Blues defence paid the price for sitting back rather than killing the time and space for the Reds to push the ball around the stock exchange area with ease before left winger Marquez curled the shot from the top of the penalty area into the roof of the net after some patient build up from Evans in the 12th minute.
The game came to a halt in the 17th minute when veteran striker Joshua Stevenson and Melville goalkeeper Max Tommy collided, after a long ball from Blues centre-mid Karan Mandair at the top of the Reds' penalty box, although both players got up a minute later for play to resume.
Melville defender Mark Jones picked up a yellow card from referee Antony Riley for a studs-up sliding challenge on left wing back Liam Schofield in the 30th minute, not long after it started drizzling.
Stevenson got a yellow card from Riley after a challenge on Jones in the 40th minute.
The Blues took some ownership from the second spell, with the two changes, with Tommy denying Bueno a goal from an oblique angle in the 63rd minute and than parrying the impending cornerkick attempt before Jones saw red, Riley sending him off for a second yellow on what should be best be described as another dumb foul, this time on Mandair long after the teenager had cleared the ball in the 65th minute.
"Before the red card came we had started to dominate and create chances but that red card gave us the extra incentive to get on the ball more," said Robertson, feeling overall the Rovers had deserved to prevail after a dejected Melville counterpart, Aaron Scott, had lamented losing a player and with it their momentum.
Two minutes later Bueno's pangs of selfishness robbed the Rovers of a chance when he chose to dribble past two defenders rather than push the ball out to an unmarked Scholes on the right edge of the box.
Not surprisingly Melville coaches Michael Mayne and Sam Wilkinson pulled off Marquez to inject Liam Steffert to signal a 10-man defensive approach from the 69th minute.
The heavens opened at the 73-minute mark and three minutes later a defensive passing blunder saw Bueno latch on to the ball but unable to slip it past Tommy who had charged out of the box as the Uruguayan went down.
Abba made a couple of surges into the box but the defence held and Davies made way for Harry Christensen-Rose in the 81st minute for fresh legs.
However, it was the Rovers who had equalised, 1-all, a minute later from Jonny McNamara who swivelled inside the box from a Bueno aerial win following some hard work from Scholes on the left flank to cross the ball on his second attempt after a Melville defender thwarted the first.
Deservedly it was Schofield who had nudged the Blues 2-1 ahead when he took a cross from Canadian midfielder Gavin Hoy, after a long ball was threaded up the left flank, for the Englishman to drill past Tommy in the 84th minute although he picked up a yellow card a minute later for a crude tackle.
That proved to be costly as the ensuing free kick yielded a goal to Scott who had poked the equaliser into the net after the ball was won aerially inside the box and the Blues had failed to mop it up in the 86th minute.
The winner came from Goto after Robertson challenged the ball from a Hoy corner but it hit a Melville Beefeater and jagged down for the Japanese import to tuck and shave in under the crossbar as the Blues' bench erupted into wild celebrations in the 89th minute.
Robertson said Goto's mother was in the stands after arriving in Napier a fortnight ago to watch her son play so for the central midfielder to score was magical for the Japanese who picked up the man-of-the-match award.
"It's great for Sho but I'm pleased with everyone's contribution today ... and I can't fault anyone."
He saluted the contingent of followers who had made the trip north as well as those who had watched them on big screen TV at the sponsors' tavern and the Park Island clubrooms.
A laughing Robertson wasn't sure who was going to sleep with the silverware tonight.
Chuckling, Robertson said the lads intended to shower and change at their hotel before hitting the CBD of the Big Smoke for a celebration long into the night before arriving at Hawke's Bay Airport in Napier at 9.25am tomorrow.