Moving the ball forward, the heart swelled with optimism, while covering the back, the heart was in the mouth, as an erratic Team Ritesh Football Whanganui ultimately prevailed 2-1 over Taradale AFC at Wembley Park on Sunday.
The importance of claiming consecutive Women's Federation League wins for the first time in their history cannot be overstated for Whanganui, especially as it was their inaugural victory over an opponent who is not bottom of the table, and in fact Taradale remain a favourite for the GR Engineering Federation Cup semifinals this coming Friday.
But Whanganui rode a hard path to get it, after they went 1-0 up in 17 minutes following an excellent strike by Dana McClelland, who chased through traffic to put the ball wide of the approaching goalkeeper into the right hand corner.
McClelland and Eva Thompson had some good passing exchanges on the wings, which were necessary given Taradale doubled up their defenders on current Golden Boot leader Vanya Apiata Hodgkinson.
Candice Armstrong got better as the match went on and sent Hodgkinson some ripper passes in the final quarter.
While still making several key unforced turnovers, faced with some good defenders and a committed goalkeeper, one always had the sense Whanganui's forwards could get a breakaway or force their way through for another score, especially when Alice Hetherington came off the bench for the second half to bring her powerful strikes into play, several of which flew over the cross bar.
But there was nothing but anxiety in the back field as Rebekah Ngapeka was playing well but on a sore knee getting rapidly worse, while youngster Ashley Cowley was her usual hustling self in the midfield until going down injured after making a crucial tackle right before halftime.
At centre back, Lisa Walker was really struggling to contain Taradale's zippy teenage attackers, as every time the visitors moved the ball out with pace from the midfield, Whanganui seemed vulnerable, with defenders getting beaten more times than an old rug on the first day of spring.
Fortunately, goalkeeper Megan O'Connor was having a brilliant match, showing composure to direct the brittle-looking defence where to go, making big clearances herself, and having sharp reaction times as the ball began to smack into her gloves both harder and with growing regularity.
The pivotal moment came midway through the second half, not long after Taradale had drawn level when a turnover left their striker one-on-one with O'Connor and no defenders getting anywhere near – slamming home the equaliser with a right-to-left strike.
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Taradale were steaming up again from the left-hand side, hungry to take the lead, but O'Connor came roaring out of her box to make a stunning dive save, then pulled herself up to dash back and get hands on the support player's second strike from the ricochet heading across the goalmouth.
As Cowley had recovered enough to return at centre back, Whanganui found that their best defence was a good offence - with better co-ordination now keeping the ball at the other end - as a frustrated Taradale were beginning to open up at the back from Hetherington's long passes, while Armstrong and McClelland found some room to work.
It was now time for Taradale's keeper to prove her worth, making a number of big saves as Whanganui came in on the angle to the left post, then immediately sending booming clearances right back to halfway so the momentum would swing immediately with her forwards getting another crack at the beleaguered home defenders.
But the dam finally broke and who else could it be but Hodgkinson – as after McClelland got free down the left wing again, her lovely pass back into Hetherington was sent cannoning into the keeper's gloves, yet the rebound fell perfectly for Whanganui's striker coming forward to smash home her ninth goal of the season.
With two and a half minutes remaining, Hetherington set herself further back on defence and Whanganui nearly opened up a desperate Taradale a couple more times, sending several clearances back into the visitor's half to run them out of time.
Having finished the match with a couple more grey hairs than he started, coach Matt Calvert's primary hope was for his players to "soak up the experience" by learning how their opposite markers react in certain key moments, so the next time they come together it can be countered.
"Performance wise, off the ball, resolute and hard.
"On the ball, we just dipped a little bit. It's frustrating to see the same things over and over again."
Yet given many times in the past three seasons Whanganui have played better but still ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard, Calvert was more than happy to take the three competition points, which solidify them in second place on the ladder with a 3-4-1 record.
"It shows you can win playing ok, half decent.
"It's going to go down as a big moment in the team's existence.
"The girls should be really proud for the way they stuck to the task for the whole game."
Unbeaten Hokowhitu FC (7-1-0) continued their march on top of the table, although not without a strong test by Massey University (1-5-2), winning 1-0 at Skoglund Park, while Palmerston North Marist (2-5-1) moved up into third spot by virtue of a 2-0 victory over winless Feilding United at Memorial Park.
Whanganui will head to the Massey grounds on Sunday looking for payback from their 2-0 loss in the Federation Cup quarterfinals two weeks ago, while it remains to be seen how strong the home side will be after playing their Cup semifinal with Taradale just 48 hours before.