Havelock North Wanderers will have to do it all over again next year after they missed out on promotion to the premier winter league this afternoon.
The Building King-sponsored villagers lost 4-1 to Petone FC in Wellington after beating the hosts 4-2 at Guthrie Park, Hastings, last Sunday, to lose 6-5 on aggregate over the two legs.
It was a cruel end to the season for the Chris Greatholder-coached Havelock North side who were undefeated until this afternoon.
The Central Federation League champions' stumble on the final hurdle raises questions on the strength of the league when compared with the Capital Premiership despite Petone losing three matches this season before earning promotion to the central League today.
One could argue the villagers shouldn't have conceded two goals in their home match after opening a 4-0 lead until Petone scored in the 93rd minute and another in the first minute of the referee's time.
However, while entertaining that thought Greatholder felt Petone would have argued the momentum was with the visitors.
Nevertheless he reiterated the Wanderers had several players who had played for their school first XI teams during the New Zealand premiership staged here last week so fatigue had kicked in during the last 15 minutes last Sunday.
"It is what it is so I'm not sure because it may be a factor or it may not be one."
Greatholder said his troops' quality wasn't there today through no lack of passion or energy although the hosts had made it hard for them on the artificial surface of Petone Memorial Park.
"All credit to them because they deserved to win today so there's no doubt about that although the score flatters them a little bit," he said after the sides were locked 1-all at halftime. "They were much better than us on the day."
The visitors went up 1-0 from captain Bjorn Christensen in just the ninth minute but Jaga Scott-Greenfield squeezed the equaliser under Havelock North goal keeper Nick Hayward in the 21st minute, according to Petone FC's Twitter account.
Ethan Findley drilled the 2-1 lead after Hayward couldn't put a leash a shot from Zach Watson in the 55th minute.
Tah Eh Doh extended the lead to 3-1 for the Royal Blues, thundering a drive off the crossbar, after his first attempt was thwarted, in the 74th minute.
Isaac Snell surged into the box before crossing deftly to Watson for the final nail, 4-1, in Havelock North's coffin in the 88th minute.
Greatholder rued a couple of missed one-on-one opportunities as well as a vociferous shout for a "massive penalty" that fell on deaf ears in the second half but they had come up shy in the gamble.
"At the end of the day it's our first domestic defeat of the season on the last day and it's the first one we lose so it's a bit rough and seems cruel."
The Wanderers will lose three players to university next season but have gained two 15-year-olds in their bid to keep competing with predominantly homegrown talent.
"We have a great core of experienced players so we're hoping they would want to go again."
He said it was too early and the emotions still very raw to take stock too soon.
"Developing these players is a massive part of the club ... but not really great for the club because we want to be in the Central League," he said, saluting his players and emphasising they should be proud of their achievements this season.
Greatholder said the Wanderers had attenpted "to be our own mistress at times" in trying to maintain a standard in Fed League that had a yawning gap when juxtaposed with their rivals.
"We can't control that but all we can control is to get better at what we do and to make sure we have good players around here who will come back stronger."
He said Havelock North had broken myriad records this winter, including an unblemished record never accomplished in the Fed League.
"It's very harsh where we didn't perform in one game and our season's gone out of the window, really."
Greatholder said the Wanderers had a good rest at a motel and meals, including lunch that La Bella Italia owner Antonio Cacace — father of Wellington Phoenix player Liberato — had hosted today before the 3pm kick off.