By BOB PEARCE
Taranaki rugby fans are used to the feeling: honest effort is not always enough to win matches.
So there would have been many in the good crowd at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth on Saturday night who would have understood the frustrations of the Football Kingz as they lost 3-0 to the Adelaide Force.
They were simply outplayed by a better team. Adelaide looked like championship contenders. The Kingz didn't.
And it is hard to see them pulling out of the slump which has brought just one goal and one point in their last six matches.
When they cross the Tasman for their next game, against the Melbourne Knights, dreams of the playoffs will have been replaced by the nightmare of repeating their last-place finish of 2002.
Captain Chris Jackson gave an honest appraisal after the loss to Adelaide: "We were second to the ball. We deserved to lose."
Jackson and his team-mates toiled hard but lacked the skill and class of players such as Aurelio Vidmar, Goran Lozanovski and Carl Veart.
With right-winger James Pritchett a notable exception, the Kingz were a step slower than their opponents all over the field.
Coach Ken Dugdale pulled no punches: "You could say I was disappointed with a capital D. I'm angry and, in some way, a bit embarrassed.
"When you give away silly goals the pressure goes on the strikers and when you don't take your chances, everyone suffers.
"They were a bigger team than us and technically better, but there are ways of countering that."
By midway through the first half the game was effectively lost, with the Kingz 2-0 down.
The back four of Hiroshi Miyazawa, Mark Atkinson and new recruits Mauro Donoso and Con Anthopoulos showed glimpses of individual skill, but as a defensive unit were clearly recent acquaintances.
Sure, the first Adelaide goal after 15 minutes had an element of luck to it. Miyazawa gave away a freekick and Lozanovski's shot from 32 metres deflected off Harry Ngata's shin past Michael Utting.
But the defence was nowhere six minutes later when Adelaide added a second. Lucas Pantelis floated a cross on to the head of an unmarked Vidmar and he nodded back across the goal for Iain Fyfe to score the simplest of goals.
Despite the best efforts of Pritchett, who regularly beat his man and provided some good crosses, the best the Kingz could manage was a long-range shot from Raf De Gregorio and a fierce volley from Atkinson, which drew a good save.
Striker Mark Beldham came on for Atkinson at halftime, and for 20 minutes there was hope for Kingz fans.
Harry Ngata, who never gives less than 100 per cent, began to win the aerial battle against bigger men in the Adelaide defence and the chances started to come.
Beldham twice headed wide and Andy Vlahos was thwarted by a brilliant save after being put clear by Ngata.
A goal might have sparked a stirring revival, but in the 64th minute it came at the wrong end.
Vidmar cleverly conned the referee into penalising De Gregorio. Lozanovski expertly curled the freekick across the face of the goal and Fyfe crashed home his second goal as the defence hesitated.
Utting initially moved off his line but pulled back and the gap opened up.
Chilean Patricio Almendra, the one Kingz player with star quality, will be back from suspension this week.
He has been sorely missed.
By BOB PEARCE