Shuffle a pack of cards well enough and the chances of a winning hand — quite often — isn't too far away.

Just ask Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United after they chucked the monkey off their back when they beat the Canterbury United Dragons 2-1 in Napier on Sunday.

With enforced changes due to injury or for a fresh outlook, Bay United ended a five-match losing streak at Bluewater Stadium, Park Island, after leading 1-0 at halftime.

"It's a bit of fun and it's great to be doing the job for the team," said goalkeeping mentor Richard Gillespie, who had stepped in for regular captain Ruben Parker Hanks as midfielder Joshua Signey slipped on the armband.

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Gillespie was one of the shuffles because Hanks and back-up keeper Shae Stapleton were carrying injuries so he had also played in the loss to Tasman United last weekend.

"Looking into the two-week break window we thought if we can give him [Hanks] four to five weeks then he should be back to full fitness flying around doing the job we need him to do," said the 38-year-old Te Pohue School principal, revealing Stapleton was recovering from an ankle sprain.

Gillespie showed he still had deft world-class touches in keeping the Cantabrians at bay.

The former Auckland City FC and Waitakere United gloveman's honours include Chatham Cup crowns in 2007, 2008, a treble of NZFC (former national summer league) championship titles (2006-08) and just as many trips with Waitakere United to the World Club Championship.

Bay United player Liam Schofield (left) anticipates a challenge as goalkeeper Richard Gillespie and Bill Robertson watch the ball sail past against the Dragons in Napier. Photo / Photosport
Bay United player Liam Schofield (left) anticipates a challenge as goalkeeper Richard Gillespie and Bill Robertson watch the ball sail past against the Dragons in Napier. Photo / Photosport

The victory was therapeutic and something that should work as an elixir when they host Southern United another side below them — on Saturday, February 29, in a 1pm kick off.

"For our season the boys really needed those points so they worked hard for each other and fought like dogs," he said, believing had it not been for some deft saves from his counterpart, Danny Knight, they could have scored more goals.

Gillespie said winning, like losing, was a habit and, unfortunately, Bay United had let the latter infiltrate their constitution.

"I firmly believe — on paper and man for man — we're better than most of the teams in this league but for some reason it wasn't transferring on to the park with the boys not winning individual battles.

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"Yes it was a habit and you tend to fall into those things but we've now given ourselves a good shot in the arm to finish in the top four."

Gillespie lauded co-coaches Chris Greatholder and Bill Robertson for instilling self-belief and the fans for assuming the mantle of 12th man despite hitting a trough.

Canterbury skipper Aaron Clapham said they were "very disappointed" because the Dragons were in the doldrums where things weren't clicking for them.

"There were those long periods in the second half where we were quite dominant but we were not scoring in those moments," he said, alluding to passages in the first half as well.

"I don't have the answer to why that is but it's a frustrating one for us," the 32-year-old said amid hollow laughter.

Clapham said they were performing but losing a lot of games so the premiership table wasn't telling a lie.

"We're right down at the moment so we've got to take a hard look at ourselves to work ourselves up from there."

The former All White said it was difficult for him to comprehend what it was like to be rooted to the bottom of the premiership table for the first time in more than 10 stints of competing in the national summer league.

"I think what's working in our favour is that the league is very tight and there's a lot of points being dropped so there's still time to fix those things up," said the football director of Cashmere Technical club in Christchurch.

The belief was still among the visitors of making the playoffs provided the mathematical possibilities kept them in touch but the primary challenge was pulling themselves out of the quagmire, Clapham said.

It was hard to single out players but Gavin Hoy, Sho Goto, Liam Schofield and Jorge Akers were in the thick of the action in the first spell after the hosts had absorbed a flurry of attacks from the visitors in the first 20 minutes.

Canterbury forager Abdul Khalifa was cutting in from the left flank but taking too many touches to turn attacks into acute angles rather than spontaneously pulling the trigger as an element of surprise.

Referee Matthew Conger lost patience, flashing a yellow card at former Bay United player Sean Liddicoat for clinging to Ahinga Selemani like a cheap suit in the 33rd minute.

Hawke's Bay United striker Ahinga Selemi threads a cross to Sho Goto as Dragons defenders Sean Liddicoat (left), Dan Schwarz and Ben Stroud retreat. Photo / Ian Cooper
Hawke's Bay United striker Ahinga Selemi threads a cross to Sho Goto as Dragons defenders Sean Liddicoat (left), Dan Schwarz and Ben Stroud retreat. Photo / Ian Cooper

But it was Selemani who got the last laugh when he pushed Bay United 1-0 with a header to catch Knight flat-footed after the striker had latched on to an Ihaia Delaney cross two minutes later.

The Dragons pulled out Khalifa in the 51st minute and injected Harris Zeb but it was Bay United right winger Jorge Akers who found the net a minute later. Selemani had surged into the box from a Schofield pass on the left flank but, instead of striking, threaded it across to Akers on the far post to smack it into the roof of the net for a 2-0 lead.

Canterbury centreback Ben Stroud rose above a lead-footed Bay United defence to nod in a goal from a cornerkick to narrow the deficit to 2-1 in the 59 minute.

Lyle Matthysen had an opportune chance to level with a one-on-one situation but Gillespie's glove won in the 75th minute.

It was Bay United substitute striker Angus Kilkolly's turn to put the game to bed but Knight emulated Gillespie's feat in the 82nd minute.

Kilkolly again had a chance when he took possession from near the halfway mark, wrong footed two defenders to enter the 18m box but took too long to shoot as the retreating pair shut him down two minutes into the referee's time.

A minute later, Gillespie made a blinding save from a free kick curled over the defensive wall after centreback Robertson had risked exposing the hosts to set-piece vulnerabilities with a foul on Matthysen.

It wasn't the complete package but, at least, there's a timely injection of self-belief for the rest of the summer.

Hawke's Bay United co-coach Chris Greatholder (centre) celebrates with injured captain Ruben Park Hanks after beating Canterbury United in Napier. Photo / Ian Cooper
Hawke's Bay United co-coach Chris Greatholder (centre) celebrates with injured captain Ruben Park Hanks after beating Canterbury United in Napier. Photo / Ian Cooper