They desperately needed a win and would have settled for a point but it didn't happen for the underdogs in the Hawke's Bay derby in Napier today.
The last-placed Building King Havelock North Wanderers lost 1-0 to table-topping Thirsty Whale Napier City Rovers in the dying minutes of the round 16 Ultra Football Central League match at Bluewater Stadium, Park Island.
The stiff northwesterly gusting from the hockey-turf end definitely played its hand. It seemed like the villagers were going to come away with something to stay in touch with fellow newcomers Integration Works Waterside Karori who had eked out a point against Lower Hutt City in their 1-all draw yesterday.
Instead, the Chris Greatholder-coached Wanderers had to settle for a moral victory against the Blues who had walloped them 6-1 at Guthrie Park, Hastings, on May 6.
"It's one of those games where we'll certainly take a point and move on," said Rovers player/coach Bill Robertson, agreeing the wind had an influence as the visitors played the first half with the northwesterlies behind them but had squandered numerous scoring opportunities for a scoreless 45 minutes.
Robertson said his James Holye-captained side had reversed the tables in the second half when the Wanderers were pegged back in their own half for a lion's share of the spell.
"Havelock North have certainly earned our respect today and if the season hadn't gone this way they would have been more comfortable," said the centreback of the Ethan Dent-captained side who he felt had made incremental improvements throughout the season.
"They have become a much more difficult side to beat so they've earned respect from myself and, I'm sure, some of our other players as well," he said.
The league crown contenders play Lower Hutt City away at Petone Park on Saturday next week before finishing their campaign a fortnight later in hosting Wairarapa United on Saturday, August 18, in the league's bid to ensure all games finish on the same day.
The Blues maintain their three-point lead after defending champions Advanced Electrical Western Suburbs, sitting in second place, came from 1-0 down to beat Stop Out Sports Club 2-1 with the winner coming a minute into added time.
Greatholder today echoed similar sentiments of "it was one of those games wasn't it?"
He lamented his players creating golden opportunities but failing to put the ball into the net.
"We should have gone into the break with a lead but we played really well and got through their big traps and extended on our threats.
"It's difficult to take, mate, but we played really well today and we should have got something from the game."
Greatholder said they had an eye on Waterside Karoroi shuffling a point above them on the table but hosting Wellington Olympic at Guthrie Park, Hastings, on Sunday next week was imperative to staving off relegation. They play Western Suburbs in the capital city in their final outing.
"We've got to win, simple as that. I believe we have a team who can do that and we will stay up.
"It's a tough one to take now because we were very close to what could have been a win for us but, I think, our performance warrants that so we've got a big one next week and we'll go again."
The Greeks lost 3-2 to Wellington United yesterday while Wairarapa succumbed 2-1 to Miramar Rangers.
"I don't want to get out the violin but if we'd had a couple of more months to prepare for the season I think we would have been in the mid-table region with the group we've got.
"They've gone from being a local bunch of players to being Central League calibre now and I'm really proud of the journey we've been through so I'm going to be even more proud when we stay in the league," said Greatholder.
The raucous goal celebration from the Bluewater Stadium faithful summed up a game that was fast turning into a tooth extraction.
In the 23rd minute, Liam Shackleton got the villagers' second chance after Jorge Akers threaded a ball to him into the 18m box but Blues goalkeeper Mackenzie Waite showed his worth to thwart the winger's crisp finish. The Auckland gloveman had done just that to deny Wanderers striker Gagame Feni in the seventh minute.
In the 31st minute, Rovers vice-captain Joshua Stevenson had a one-on-one chance inside the box but a scrambling defence denied him the chance to pull the trigger to test Havelock North goalkeeper Nick Hayward.
Feni had the Blues' defence in sixes and sevens again in the 39th minute when he eased into the box but his shot from an oblique angle whistled past the far upright.
Rovers English import wing back Liam Schofield made a deft cross in the stock exchange but the header from Canadian import winger Wesley Cain header hit the crossbar and bounced over in the 55th minute.
The Wanderers sat behind the ball with nine men but Rovers midfielder Sho Goto came close to breaking the deadlock with a clever chip shot from inside the box but Hayward made a great diving save to push the ball past the upright in the 71st minute.
Cain again wasn't able when he failed to curl the ball from inside the 18m box with just keeper Hayward to beat in the 78th minute.
The winger reloaded but Hayward again was equal to the occasion.
However, the goalkeeper's heroics weren't enough when he parried a shot only to see rightback Harry Fautley handling the ball as he tried to get up from the goalmouth melee in the 85th minute.
Golden boot contender Martin Bueno added to his tally with a 1-0 lead from the ensuing penalty kick.
Fautley got a yellow card for his brain explosion and should have got a red card for deliberate handball although referee John Rowbury obviously saw it differently.
The last throw of the dice came in added time when Robertson deliberately fouled Feni on the right flank to pick up a yellow card but, more importantly, negate any danger of an equaliser from the forager.