When the lungs start begging for oxygen and the calf muscles are cramping up, it can start playing silly games with the mind.
That's what Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United and Eastern Suburbs found out when they played out an exciting 3-all stalemate at Park Island, Napier, today.
With the near-30C temperature and wind dictating terms along the pitch towards the hockey turf end, the Lily Whites from Eastern Suburbs did well to go up 2-0 early before holding a 2-1 lead into the break.
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When the Chris Greatholder and Bill Robertson-coached hosts led 3-2 in the second half the Lily Whites didn't wilt, finding enough reserve energy in their tank to find the equaliser.
"The heat was tough but we knew that coming into the game so it was just a matter of managing it. I think we did okay," said striker Ahinga Selemani, who claimed a brace for Bay United.
Selemani, who was born in Canada but raised in Michigan in the United States since he was 12, was grateful the northerlies were kind to them but found in every match at Bluewater Stadium he was becoming accustomed to the dry heat.
"For us, it's disappointing because we've been working hard all pre-season so we obviously wanted to take the three points but we'll just have to regroup now and go for it," he said, after foraging for the ball for 90-plus minutes before he was substituted to a standing ovation.
The 23-year-old labelled the visitors a good unit but emphasised Bay United had the quality to deal with all the teams they would face.
In the changing rooms at halftime, Greatholder had reminded them they had been in that position before against Auckland City in the opener but Bay United simply needed to keep pressing hard and opportunities would open up.
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Eastern Suburbs striker Stephen Hoyle, a former Napier City Rovers import, played down the elements to applaud the blueprint of Greatholder and Robertson but felt the visitors should have been much better in possession.
"They're [Bay United] a very strong unit and they are never out of the a game so they carried on working hard and bounced back when some teams would have rolled over and died if they had been 2-nil down in the first 20 minutes," said Hoyle who also got a brace but lamented Eastern Suburbs not putting the match to bed and instead giving Bay United a sniff.
The 27-year-old English striker is in his maiden season with the Lily Whites after stints with Canterbury United and crossed the Cook Strait after coach Danny Hay approached him. The defending premiership champions have lost all bar two players from last season — defender Kelvin Kalua and midfielder Mohamed Awad — who have secured lucrative contracts abroad.
"I guess we're just gelling so we need to put together a complete performance because we look really good in patches and then have spells not so impressive," he said.
Hoyle said the killer instinct should have emerged and the match should have been dusted at halftime.
"I want to wish all the best to Chris and Bill because when I'm not playing against them I'm a good fan of what they do so I hope they crack into the playoffs and go from there," he said.
Eastern Suburbs made their intentions clear in just the opening minute when Awad clipped the near upright and the ball bounced back into play but home side goalkeeper Ruben Parker Hanks was equal to the occasion in thwarting Daniel Bowkett's return from point-blank range.
Bay United had a great opportunity to extract first blood — when Selemani won the ball on the right flank near the corner flag before curling it into the box, about 8m from the goalmouth — but Ihaia Delaney's header sailed over the crossbar in the eighth minute.
It was Eastern Suburbs who went up 1-0 in the next minute when Hoyle coolly slotted the ball into the Bay goal.
But Hoyle wasn't done, nailing another one three minutes later to extend the lead to 2-0 and prompting Bay United co-coach Greatholder to bark instructions.
It was Suburbs keeper Danyon Drake's turn to make an excellent parry when he denied Bay right winger Gavin Hoy in the 21st minute.
Josh Signey eventually got a yellow card from referee Campbell-Kirk Kawana-Waugh for fouling Hoyle in the 35th minute.
Bay United's patience paid off when left wingback Jorge Akers received a ball wide, then worked it in from an acute angle to drill it into the goal to narrow the deficit to 2-1 in the 38th minute.
The game came to halt a few minutes later after a head clash between Jacob Mechell and Signey but the former carried on whilethe latter had to go to the sideline for some deliberation before he was allowed to return.
Suburbs leftback Dylan De Jong also collected a yellow card for a crude tackle on Selemani, amid howls from the fans, just before halftime.
Akers, in his first start this season, turned provider in the 51st minute when he had a one-two with centreback Fergus Neil before pulling out a pitching wedge shot to Selemani whose lob over Drake fell agonisingly outside the upright.
But the striker didn't make any mistakes four minutes later when he rolled it past Drake to level at 2-all after some patient work from his teammates to work the ball into the penalty box.
Suburbs defender Michael Built brought down Delaney with a mindless grapple around the waist in the box as Kawana-Waugh pointed to the penalty spot in the 77th minute. Selemani drilled the penalty into his bottom right corner despite Drake's diving effort for a 3-2 lead.
Centreback Christian Gray equalised at 3-all to stunned silence when he latched on to an almost uncontested corner kick in the 84th minute.
Four minutes were added to each half so it wasn't surprising to see players succumb to gravity on the final whistle to massage aching muscles.
Akers had gradually got into the game after feeling his way in the early minutes to repay his faith in the co-coaches.
He should have been substituted at least five minutes earlier, after cramping on his goal line, but Bjorn Christensen eventually came on for him in the 83rd minute.
Hoy, Signey and Sho Goto were diligent but more composure is imminent.
The ease with which Suburbs counterattacked should be of concern. How they exploited the left flank, almost at will, to weasel their way to the goal line before cutting the ball back needs an airtight plan.
Defence at set pieces also needs bolstering smartly.
If anything both teams were guilty of sitting back to defend a one-goal margin.
Havelock North Wanderers striker Liam Shackleton made his premiership debut off the bench and will be better for it, as Jack Parker shows.
Bay United play second-placed Southern United at Logan Park, Dunedin, in a 4pm kick next Saturday before hosting Waitekere United in a 2pm start on Sunday, December 15.
They sit on the fourth rung of the premiership ladder on equal eight points creating a log jam with three other teams, including Team Wellington above them as well as Waitakere United and Eastern Suburbs below them.
Auckland City 2
(Cameron Howieson 38th, Myer Bevan pen 48th)
Tasman United 1
(Jama Boss 75th).
Hamilton Wanderers 2 (Thilo Wilke 2nd, Derek Tieku 10th) Wellington Phoenix Reserves 4 (Ahmed Othman 15th, 56th; Sam Sutton pen 42nd; Stephen Sprowson 80th). HT: 2-2.
Hawke's Bay United 3 (Jorge Akers 38th, Ahinga Selemani 55th, 77th) Eastern Suburbs 3 (Stephen Hoyle 9th, 12th; Christian Gray 84th).
Team Wellington 2 (Jack-Henry Sinclair 24th, Rory McKeown 31st) Canterbury United Dragons 1 (Calum Ferguson 22nd). HT: 2-1.
Waitakere United 2 (own goal 50th, Jack Duncan 90 + 2) Southern United 5 (Garbhan Coughlan 28th, Cameron McKenzie 31st, Joel Stevens 38th, 51st, pen 85th). HT: 0-3.
Standings after week 5: Auckland City FC 13pts, Southern United FC 9, Team Wellington 8, Hawke's Bay United 8, Waitakere United 8, Eastern Suburbs AFC 8, Canterbury United Dragons 5, Wellington Phoenix Reserves 4, Tasman United 3, Hamilton Wanderers 3.