Defending champions Napier City Rovers came from behind to beat Lower Hutt City in their Central League match in Wellington yesterday.
The Thirsty Whale-sponsored Blues were down 1-0 in the first minute, due to a defensive blunder, and then trailed 2-0 at the 21st-minute mark before going into halftime locked at 2-all at Fraser Turf.
"Overall, we probably deserved the result," player-coach Bill Robertson said after James Hoyle pulled one back and own goal levelled terms.
Rovers centreback Kaeden Atkins nudged the visitors ahead 3-2, through a corner kick in the second spell but the hosts had equalised 3-all but veteran striker Joshua Stevenson got the winner, 4-3, with about 13 minutes left in the round-17 encounter.
Stevenson, who had been starting off the bench for the best part of the season but started yesterday, had put his hand up last Sunday in the Chatham Cup quarterfinal penalty shootout victory over Albany United (Auckland) when he had started a revival as the Blues were down 2-0 in the last 10 minutes of regulation time.
Robertson agreed it was a test of character for his men as they prepared for a national knockout cup semifinal against Onehunga Sports (Auckland) at Park a fortnight away.
"Mentally to be travelling away for six hours on a bus to Lower Hutt knowing, realistically, we're focusing mainly on the Chatham Cup [isn't easy] but, to be honest, the boys were pretty professional with a good performance for the most part," he said.
However, the second-placed Rovers, on 34 points, host third-placed Wellington Olympic, a point behind, in a 2pm kick off this Saturday in what should be a humdinger and an ideal preparation for the Blues before Onehunga.
"There'll be competition for places, in terms of the starting line up for the Chatham Cup, because everyone wants to play so these games are important on our decisions on who starts."
Robertson said driving rain punctuated yesterday's game but it didn't have much of an impact on a slick artificial pitch.
Significantly Gavin Hoy, Jonny McNamara and Martin Bueno were all serving suspensions and goalkeeper Joshua Hill was out with a shoulder injury.
Liam Schofield and captain Fergus Neil also are out against the Greeks in the next round due to accumulated yellow-card suspensions.