It's a big ask on a big field, but Versatile Wanganui City think they can stay with defending champions Palmerston North Marist when their Lotto Federation League campaign resumes at Memorial Park Saturday afternoon.
Having a bye for the opening round of Federation Cup last weekend, in the midst of a massive road schedule with two trips into the Hawke's Bay followed by consecutive Palmerston North games, City took a break from training last week to freshen up – their brief consideration for a Thursday run around being thwarted by the rain.
Returned home from Australia, co-coach Anthony Bell said the team had two good hit outs this week, including introducing three young players into the wider squad.
"It's just to bring them up to speed so for when they are called upon."
But it will be the guile of the regulars and temperament of the veterans that is needed against PN Marist, who currently lead the competition on goal differential from Havelock North Wanderers, who have a game in hand, and Napier Marist.
PN Marist put an 8-2 hammering on their Napier brethren in their season opener at Memorial Park on April 6, then headed over to Hokowhitu FC's ground to win 4-0.
Wanderers checked Marist's momentum with a 4-3 victory at Memorial Park, but they rebounded with a 5-1 hammering of New Plymouth Rangers up in Taranaki, before finishing over the top of GJ Gardner Homes Wanganui Athletic 5-0 at Wembley a fortnight ago.
PN Marist entered the Chatham Cup last week against Central League titleholders Napier City Rovers, losing 4-2 after taking the match to extra time.
Despite the departure of coach Shane Rufer to the Red Sox, Marist under player-coach Adam Cowan have continued to set a bench mark, while recruiting some significant talent, including from this neck of the woods.
One of their goal scorers against Rovers was Whanganui Collegiate's Corbyn Charles, while the well-travelled Josh Smith has joined Marist this year after transferring from Wanganui Athletic, which in turned followed his prior stint with the now defunct Team Taranaki.
The other goal scorer against Rovers was Nicholas Carrick, formally of Hokowhitu and runnerup in the Golden Boot standings last year, while already making significant strides to claiming that prize in 2019.
Despite the firepower, Bell thinks they've got the personnel to hang onto Carrick and Smith.
"We do have an in-house gameplan to combat that, but you never know how they're going to make up on the day.
"Defensively, we've improved. Adam Gill being back is a big help.
"He's one the first names you check.
"Possibly putting Max Davidson back there as well, he could be key to our defensive shift."
Davidson has always been an up-front attacking player in his career so far, but has showed he can handle the back field in his previous stints there, and against PN Marist, Bell felt you have to arrange all the chess pieces to nullify your opponent's king.
"A lot like any game, you've got to stay positive and play to your strengths.
"It's a massive pitch [at Memorial].
"We've been saying, 'go get a name for yourself' – that's what you try to tell your players."
Marist have lost noted defender and former City club member Jamie Lambe after dislocating his shoulder against Rovers.
Kickoff is 2.45pm.
Wanganui Athletic 1sts are on the bye for this League round, while the GJ Gardner Homes Wanganui Athletic Reserves are on the road in the Horizons Premiership to face Feilding United at Timona Park, with a 12.30pm kickoff.
And in Sunday's Women's Federation League, Team Ritesh Football Whanganui also head to Memorial Park to face fellow unbeaten team Hokowhitu FC in a top of the table clash to finish the first round of games, kickoff 1pm.