They finished in second place on the Central League ladder behind Western Suburbs but, despite the disappointment of letting the double slip through their fingers, the burning question is how did Napier City Rovers measure up with the Chatham Cup semifinal beckoning?
"Diligent but the Thirsty Whale-sponsored Blues need to be more ruthless when going for the jugular," is what the report card is likely to say after a cup mock exam against Wellington Olympic at Park Island in the final, round 18 league encounter today.
The James Hoyle-skippered Rovers were methodical, cohesive and functional for the most part of the game in their 3-1 victory but, as golfers would bemoan missed putts, the foragers left too many goals out there against an opposition that fielded some under-19 representatives. The Greeks had trounced them 6-1 in the capital city on May 25.
Perhaps, just perhaps, it's a good thing for the Rovers not to open too much throttle before the national knockout cup semifinal against Onehunga Sports (Auckland) in the 2pm kick off at Bluewater Stadium on Sunday next week.
Blues player/coach Bill Robertson wouldn't want his troops to peak too early as the four-time champions club can now focus on a do-or-die encounter for another shot at football's most glitzy crown in New Zealand.
The heartening thing was the Rovers did it without the services of last season's golden boot, Martin Bueno, captain Fergus Neil and first-choice goalkeeper Joshua Hill. Blast from the past Shaun Peta, who last played for the Havelock North Wanderers, was on the Rovers bench as reserve glove man.
Hoyle said a youthful-looking Olympic had given the Blues a good run although they had seen the videotaped footage on the Greeks who had succumbed 5-4 to Onehunga in extra time of the cup quarterfinals .
"We thought we've been a little off in the past few weeks so we thought today was a good time to lift our standards a little bit," the defender said. "I thought we were very good on the ball today."
Hoyle felt while they had struggled in some facets, yo-yoing at times from the sublime to sloppy, but believed come Sunday next week they would be ready to rumble against Onehunga.
"Everyone wanted the double but we'll have to take second now although today we could have ended up finishing fourth if all the results hadn't gone our way so we did actually want to win today," he said of the defending league champions.
Hoyle agreed if the Rovers go on to win the Chatham Cup their Blues faithful would forget about any other missed opportunities.
Left wing back Jamie Wilkinson drew first blood, 1-0, from point-blank range near his right upright to give Olympic goalkeeper Shawn Bolton no chance in just the sixth minute.
Rovers keeper Kyle Baxter denied former Hawke's Bay United player George Barbarouses with a parry from a snap shot inside the 18m box in the 19th minute.
The Greeks equalised 1-1 with right wing Luke Agalawatta in the 26th minute when Baxter dived over the ball to hushed silence but that just stung the hosts into reacting. Wilkinson pushed the Blues ahead, 2-1, in a tit-for-tat moment to loud cheers and applause within a couple of minutes of play restarting.
"It was nice to concentrate today after the 6-1 result last time so it was nice to score goals because as a wing back you have to go forward and then run back," said the Englishman who hails from Warrington, about 32km from Liverpool.
"It was nice to find some space to score two goals and not pick up any yellow cards so that was a bonus," said a grinning Wilkinson who has had his fair share this winter with some head-scratching incidents.
When play resumed in the second half, the Blues had come close to scoring after a pin-ball machine-type action in the 18m box with centreback Kaeden Atkins clipping the crossbar but Bolton eventually snaffled the ball near his right upright.
However, the Rovers did extend the lead, 3-1, from Joshua Stevenson's header after Jonny McNamara made a deft right-foot cross from the left flank to find the veteran striker about 3m in front of the near upright in the 50th minute.
Six minutes later Rovers assistant coach Stu James pulled off Wilkinson who had selectively and liberally painted his torso with the magic spray late in the first half.
"I had a twisted ankle so it was big day next week and we were looking forward to that," Wilkinson said, adding they had started a little slow again but the lads had come through with three points despite failing to retain the league crown.
McNamara had a great opportunity to put the game to bed but Olympic centreback Sean Lane-Turnball got his foot in the way with, no doubt, keeper Bolton missing a heartbeat or two in the 60th minute. Stevenson had latched on to the deflection but his shot from about 22m out sailed over the crossbar to a repeat chorus of groans.
James then yanked off a smiling defensive midfielder Karan Mandair a minute later. Not long after James had rolled on the remaining bench players including Patryk Misik, Samuel Wall and Zac Madsen.
The game had boiled over in two minutes of referee Max Lauridsen's time when Barbarouses yanked the shirt of teenager Wall as he surged towards the 18m box with just the keeper to beat for a goal.
Lauridsen deliberated with his assistant, Christopher Niven, before awarding a free kick on the top edge of the box after having rightly ascertained the Lindisfarne College pupil had fallen into the box following a tug outside.
"Josh's worked really hard today and Jonny's run around like a greyhound chasing everything but sometimes, I think, you just need to take a breath to compose yourself," Hoyle said of missed goals before singing the anthem of creating of chances.
If anything, he bemoaned "giving" the goal to Olympic rather than making them earn it.
He confirmed the rash of substitutions was about looking after players for the cup clash.
Olympic coach Shaun Easthope while it was a disappointing way to end the season it was a good way to finish with giving their young talent a decent run.
"It's good for the future of the club," Easthope said.
He said the loss to Onehunga in the cup was still pretty raw and they were unlucky not to advance to the semifinals.
Easthope felt the Rovers and Onehunga adopted contrasting styles with the former more direct in their approach while the latter banked heavily on possession and were tactical.
"I don't want to be a politician to put myself in the centre here but, if I'm being honest, probably Onehunga were slightly the better team we played this year."
However, he said cup footy had the propensity to produce "anything" on factors such as passion.
"I don't want it to be taken the wrong way because Napier are still a very good team," said Easthope, saluting Park Island for another cracker 18C day and a fantastic grass pitch.