To keep the effervescent bubbles fizzing in the champagne before Christmas it was imperative for Hawke's Bay United to win in Napier today.
The Thirsty Whale-sponsored side did, chalking up their third consecutive victory when they pipped Southern United 3-2 at Bluewater Stadium in the ISPS Handa Premiership match on a sweltering 27C day.
It was an entertaining encounter as the two sides went to the changing rooms locked 2-2 in the earlier 1pm kick off to accommodate the flight schedules of the Otago franchise at Park Island.
The game was, for the most part, a crisp passing-moving one in the first half and certainly the most attractive Southern United have looked in a few seasons.
However, the second spell deteriorated to a stop-start, whistle-punctuated affair when push came to shove for both sides.
Bay United coach Brett Angell and his men were aware three points were crucial to their campaign before hosting Eastern Suburbs who had thrashed them 5-0 in the opening round in Auckland.
"We've got to learn but we got three points without putting the game completely to bed," said Angell, revealing they wanted to remain unbeaten going into Christmas.
"We've won three out of three and 10 out of 12 [points from four games] so, hopefully, with Eastern Suburbs next week we can pick up more."
Angell said Bay United didn't have a point to prove against the Lily Whites but more a desire to show they had evolved and had found more fluency since round one.
He said Otago coach Paul O'Reilly's approach had issued Bay United captain Birhanu Taye and his men more challenges today.
A frustrated Angell didn't think a 2-2 statement was fair but Bay United got punished for losing focus.
"I don't like conceding goals but we have scored three," he said, individually and collectively Bay United could do better in transition play.
Benjamin Wade inflicted the first blow for a 1-0 lead when he curled the ball from the sideline to the right flank of the hockey turf end of the park to catch Bay United goalkeeper Mackenzie Waite out of position in the seventh minute.
That got Angell off his chair like a yo-yo, on the case of striker BJ Christensen, screaming he didn't want him in the back line with the defenders.
A resurgent Jorge Akers threatened to level terms with a worm burner-like shot from an oblique angle to the bottom of the left upright but Southern goalkeeper Liam Little brilliantly dived to parry it from harm's way in the 19th minute.
Little again plucked a Daniel Allan header from a Maxime Oliveri corner kick to frustrate the hosts more in the 21st minute.
Another opportunity went begging from point-blank range when French midfielder Oliveri pushed a pass inside the box to Japan counterpart Sho Goto who couldn't tap it in and neither could striker Sam Mason-Smith in the 27th minute to a collective groan from fans.
However, Goto made amends with the equaliser, 1-1, a minute later when he drilled the ball past Little from inside the box as the Southern defence showed little urgency to react.
Bay United went ahead 2-1 when Mason-Smith latched on to an Oliveri cross at the far post in the 36th minute. The Englishman, falling backwards, just got his toes into the ball which trickled in almost in slow-motion fashion as Little stood rooted, watching it roll past him into the net.
The visitors came close to equalising a few minutes later from a Daniel Ledwith free kick from about 35m out but it hit the crossbar, after Taye picked up a yellow card that Angell vociferously disputed. Akers collected a yellow card soon after for a crude aerial challenge.
But last summer's hattrick scorer against Bay United, Garbhan Coughlan, casually equalised 2-2 when he slipped the ball past an advancing Little in goal after defender Cameron Lindsay made the grave mistake of trying to dribble the ball past the Irishman only to lose possession in the 42nd minute.
It was Southern United defender Erik Panzer's turn to swallow bitter medicine when he picked up a yellow card for bringing down midfielder Kaaran Mandair at the top of the 18m box in the 45th minute.
"The first goal, I thought, was kind of soft from a transition and the second goal, of course, was a little bit of a mistake from Cam," he said.
Angell felt Bay United tended to be their own worst enemies in gifting opposition possession at vital passages.
The second half resumed with Bay United upping the tempo with waves of attacks and the opposition contend to counter.
The physicality stakes got a little higher with Angell pulling out Christensen and injecting Jordan Lamb in the 54th minute.
It took an off-the-ball yellow-card foul on Oliveri during an attacking manoeuvre for Bay United to nudge ahead, 3-2, in the 64th minute. The Frenchman curled a clinical ball around the wall to beat a diving Little to the bottom left corner for a group hug.
Two minutes later, Angell collected a yellow card on the sidelines after hollering at referee Nicholas Waldron as Coughlan went down writhing and clutching his ankle from a yellow-card tackle from Allan that the coach disputed.
"You look and you say nine [No 9 Coughlan] knows what he's doing and, realistically, he got up like a spring chicken the minute the card is issued so that's what disappoints me," he said, mindful O'Reilly would lament lost free kicks.
"That's the game and now Allan's suspended for the next game," he said, agreeing the defender's fifth yellow card had added to his frustration.
O'Reilly had yanked off Benjamin Wade to inject Jared Grove in the 69th minute only to find Waldron flashing a yellow card at Irish defender Anthony Whitehead for hacking down Oliveri a minute later.
The game became scrappy with Angell exchanging volleys with O'Reilly between the coaching boxes.
"Come on, what's going on here? Let's play the game, Paul," Angell had yelled after another free kick went against his men.
Dilan Nanayakkara, of Rotorua, but plying his trade with Melville United in Hamilton during winter, went in for Goto in the 80th minute.
Mandair worked the ball up to the top of the 18m box before flicking it to Mason-Smith who rifled a shot from about 22m from the left flank of the park but Little was equal to the occasion although Oliveri pounced on the ball but could only flick it well over the crossbar in the 83rd minute.
It was heart-in-the mouth stuff for the Park Island faithful when a Whitehead free kick again beat Waite to clip the crossbar before deflecting out of harm's way in the 86th minute.
Englishman Liam Schofield went on for Akers as the left wing back a minute into the ref's time.
The Blues mounted pressure in the dying minutes but it was Bay United, as happens, who counterattacked with Oliveri surging up the field from almost the halfway mark but Little thwarted the drive from Mason-Smith.
It was Waite parrying Panzer's close-up pile driver near the upright but time had run out for the Southerners after the ensuing corner kick.
"Goals change games and If we'd got that fourth goal it would have been game over."
The catch-up footy from Southern was often a given with teams trailing adopting a nothing-to-lose attitude.
It pleased Angell different players in the mix were scoring goals rather than relying on one or two.
Bay United have lost the services of centreback Joseph Zupo for their campaign after he jetted back home to Canada due to family commitments on Wednesday.
O'Reilly said felt his men had enough chances in the second half to share the points but it wasn't to be today.
"I thought our energy, passion and resolve was great today with some good passages of play," said the Irishman, noting Bay United had "some quality" moving forward.
"I don't think there was a lot in the game so we're a little disappointed not to draw."
O'Reilly said Southern were trying to build on previous seasons and were incrementally improving.
"The physicality is something we bring every week," he said. "It's a game of football and men's senior football."
O'Reilly felt the game was played in good spirit, albeit aggressive at times, with Bay United showing they had some "good technicians on the park".