Nothing gives a more realistic feedback to a team on where they are than an opposition who harbour a similar burning desire to foot it at the higher echelons.
Building Havelock North Wanderers, who didn't receive that from New Plymouth Rangers in the previous round, found a fantastic gauge away from Palmerston North Marist in their Federation League match today.
The Chris Greatholder and Dion Adams co-coached side had to claw their way back from a 2-1 deficit at halftime to claim a 4-3 victory at Memorial Park, Palmerston North, to remain unbeaten after two matches.
"They said themselves that they want to win the league and consider themselves [contenders] and, for the time being, they will be," said Greatholder of the opposition who want a team to return into the elite Wellington-based Central League ranks devoid of a side from Manawatu for a the past few seasons.
He said Havelock North played well in patches but had dusted off a bit more rust than they had carried in their 4-1 victory over the Rangers last Saturday.
"At times today we were exceptional but at times we were below average," said Greatholder whose side had a bye in the first round but are the only unbeaten sides with table-topping Red Sox Manawatu who have registered two wins and draw.
Former Team Taranaki veteran/centre-mid Josh Smith drew first blood in the 31st minute for hosts but striker Liam Shackleton equalised 1-1 four minutes later for the Jerome Groot-captained visitors.
But Palmy North weren't having a bar of it, striker Nick Carrick nudging them ahead 2-1 in the 37th minute.
The arm wrestle continued into halftime and midway into the second spell before striker Jared Bloor equalised 2-2 for the villagers in the 71st minute.
Shackleton claimed a brace for a 3-2 lead after substitute midfielder Greatholder linked up to create the opportunity in the 79th minute.
Substitute striker Tesco Grunwald, coming in for Bloor, gave the Wanderers some breathing space when he extended the lead to 4-2 in the 87th minute.
However, Havelock North were quickly reminded on how complacency can be the father of losses when Carrick claimed a brace on the referee's time to narrow the deficit to 4-3.
Greatholder said the Wanderers had missed eight one-on-one opportunities to score but saw that as a plus rather than a disappointment because of the players movements, particularly off the ball.
"We have got to be a lot more clinical with how we execute but it wasn't a bad day at the office because we came away with three points from, eventually, our title rivals."
He said Havelock North would get stronger into the season.
Greatholder said he had been in the Bay for 14 years since arriving here from the United Kingdom and Manawatu was a strong province in football up to the summer national league but were now yearning to have at least one side in the premier winter league.
"They have finished second in the national league and have got to the Chatham Cup final with strong teams so it's good they have teams out who are challenging for things for a few years so that's really good.
"I hope they get stronger but I don't want them to do too well because we want to win the Fed League," he said with a laugh, wishing them all the best for the season.
At nearby Skoglund Park, Alexander Electric Napier Marist beat North End Association FC 3-1for their second win in their debut season in the league.
Mustfa Can claimed a brace and Harry Mason also got on the ref's scorecard after the sides were locked 1-1 at halftime.