Assuming they were playing a game of puzzles, it would have been safe to say Hawke's Bay United had joined enough dots to create gift-wrapped boxes to deposit three maximum points this summer.

Instead, they resorted to playing the addictive game of Hangman before slumping to a 2-nil defeat to the Wellington Phoenix Reserves at Park Park Island, Napier, on Sunday.

It was the Thirsty Whale Bay United's fourth loss on the trot in the national summer league in what should tantamount to an early wake-up call if they want to make the playoffs.

With enough lead in the pencil to even draw, as it were, the men in black couldn't find the right letters (buy a goal) against the Canaries who lent no credence to speculation that some players from their flagship A-League squad were likely to come down for game time after the win over Newcastle Jets on Friday night. The visitors didn't need any.

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Oh it was a guessing game all right, which left bemused Bay supporters equally baffled.

A lack of composure, unpolished boots, too heavy touches, one touch too many, missing peripheral vision, poor decisions — take your pick but the hosts looked shy at the coal face after the sides were locked scoreless in the first half.

Co-coach Chris Greatholder had rolled out his entire bench, bar reserve keeper Oscar Mason, but to no avail in what was an exciting second half for neutral fans.

It sounds churlish but the foragers need to book appointments with a chiropractor to align their feet and necks bone structures because the boot appears sensible enough to score.

"Yeah we just needed to be more clinical in there," said a despondent Liam Schofield, his body language emulating the mood of others. "Another day we would have put away our chances and it could have been game over at halftime but we've left the best chances to them although we've worked hard and it's not come off today."

It felt like an outer body experience for Schofield, bereft of words to describe an attacking style they practise week in, week out.

"In trainings they work but in games we just need to be a bit more clinical to [convert] those chances," said the Englishman on the left wing who had toiled like others on another day that flirted with 30C temperatures.

Schofield saw the irony in how the Wee-Nix didn't create as many opportunities but relied on counterattacks "because goals win games".

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"Everybody's wanting to get on the scoresheet and on a day like today we should have been up three or four by halftime."

To chuck the monkey off their backs, Schofield said, they needed to stick together and be faithful to their processes.

It's heads I win for Hawke's Bay United defender Bill Robertson as the Wellington Phoenix Reserves pair of Ahmed Othman (left) and Louis Toomey try to sandwich him. Photo / Ian Cooper
It's heads I win for Hawke's Bay United defender Bill Robertson as the Wellington Phoenix Reserves pair of Ahmed Othman (left) and Louis Toomey try to sandwich him. Photo / Ian Cooper

Wee-Nix coach Paul Temple said there was a lot of talk around the academy side dropping professionals into the equation.

"I think everyone focuses on it too much, to be honest, because it doesn't bother us," said Temple, content that Wee-Nix had enough talent pool to eke out results.

He had told his youthful charges in the dressing room everyone looked at them as the chosen ones so the onus was on them to show rivals why they were in the academy.

"I had the most faith in them in the world because I knew they were good enoughish if they worked hard enough so that was the big if and they did put in a real shift."

Temple said it was always the plan to keep Bay United scoreless at the end of the first half on the platform of a distinct blueprint of 15-minute blocks to achieve a striking distance status.

"I always felt we had that threat on the counterattack and the key thing was we needed to be within a goal or two."

Temple said Park Island hadn't been a happy hunting ground for the Wee-Nix.

"We usually get walloped here," he said. "I think this is the hardest place to go to in the league."

His adroit lads, he said, had run themselves to the ground but it was imperative to know they all "don't come out like headlights" because it took time for talent to emerge.

He labelled No 10 Benjamin Old a "super star" who had delivered for the past few weeks.

"I think he's a star in the making and it's pretty obvious people can see it."

Forager Riley Bidois didn't score but created havoc for Bay defenders and, sometimes, such shifts went unnoticed because goal scorers hogged the limelight.

It was an end-to-end affair with Gavin Hoy asking the question in the 10th minute and Bidois countering after intercepting an ill-timed back pass from Schofield. He took it around captain/goalkeeper Ruben Parker Hanks only to find player/co-coach Bill Robertson making a ball-and-all tackle two minutes later.

Greatholder urged his troops to push up the field at the 27th-minute mark but it was obvious the the blink-of-an-eye counterattacks were playing with Bay United heads.

Striker Ahinga Selemani could have drawn first blood a minute later but he had pulled out a chip and run with his header rather than a sand wedge approach as Wee-Nix goalkeeper Alex Paulsen came charging out to collect a minute later.

Selemani did pop the ball into the net from a deflected shot but assistant referee Gareth Sheehan deemed the Canadian-born American to be offside in the 31st minute.

The tempo of the match was taxing as Wee-Nix centre-mid Lukas Halakias, rightback Max Drake and midfielder Noah Tipene-Clegg had received yellow cards from referee Cory Mills for sprigs-up and crude tackles by halftime.

Selemani again found the net on halftime from a deflection off a Schofield shot but, much to the dismay of the Bluewater Stadium faithful, he had fallen foul of the offside trap although defender Ronan Wynne had gone down injured two passes earlier.

Hawke's Bay United player Ihaia Delaney heads the ball over the crossbar in a canary ambush of Wellington Phoenix Reserves but he wasn't alone in the countless misses. Photo / Ian Cooper
Hawke's Bay United player Ihaia Delaney heads the ball over the crossbar in a canary ambush of Wellington Phoenix Reserves but he wasn't alone in the countless misses. Photo / Ian Cooper

The second half resumed with midfielder Ihaia Delaney paying the price for his misses. Home boy Josh Murphy came on with a licence to shoot but picked up a yellow card for a professional foul for holding in the 46th minute.

Schofield should have got the hosts on the right side of the ledger but Selemani headed the ball surging towards the net to post it past the near upright in the 50th minute.

Cruelly it was the Wee-Nix who scored from a long ball five minutes later when Napier-born Luis Toomey chased as Hanks charged outside his box to shank the ball sideways off his head. Toomey pounced, crossing from the right flank to Bidois who took a tackle to toe it to Old who then flicked it to an unmarked Ahmed Othman near the left upright to draw first blood, 1-0.

Demoralisingly for the hosts the Wee-Nix went up 2-0, somewhat emphatically, when rightback Fergus Neil made ground from deep to Bidois who took a high tackle to his hip area but still scooted through to draw Hanks and a defender to free up Old for a tap-in goal in the 65th minute.

The frustration started to emerge in the Bay United ranks with Angus Kilkolly picking up a yellow card minutes later.

The match went through its pace but not even the "false fire alarm" going off in the clubrooms in added time could save Bay United.

Seventh-placed Bay United hit the road to face a resurgent sixth-placed Tasman United — who lost 3-2 to Waitakere United — in the next round.