Last year they tripped down the home straight in sight of their goal, and this year, GJ Gardner Wanganui Athletic will be coming from a long way back if they want to claim the Lotto Federation League runnerup position they so covert.

This afternoon at Wembley is Part 1 of what will hopefully be a dramatic two weekend mini-series as Athletic (6-1-5) meet "The People's Team" North End AFC (8-1-3) for what was originally going to be the last match of the competition.

However, the rain out of all Palmerston North games on May 27 means the League's No2 and No3 sides have not yet faced each other this season, and are holding their rescheduled Round 1 game next Saturday at Skoglund Park.

Six points behind but with a slight advantage in points differential, Athletic know they must win back-to-back to get the silver medal position for 2018 and possibly set the tone for next year as the strongest squad remaining in Federation League – should undefeated Palmerston North Marist (11-2-0), who have long checked out ahead of the pack to win the title, go qualify to rejoin Central League.


Therefore, unforseen circumstances have combined to create a virtual home and away tie, with Athletic also knowing a loss today could mean they even miss third spot for 2018, falling behind Massey, or worse, rivals New Plymouth Rangers.

"It's basically Cup football for us, because there's only one result that gets us where we want to go," said coach Jason King.

"It's a do or die match.

"If we fall short, we're playing for something else [next week]."

Last year, Athletic only needed a solitary point from their last two games to finish runnerup for the campaign ahead of Rangers, but lost both matches to sides they had comfortably beaten in their previous encounters.

Today, given neither Athletic or North End have a personal reference between them to fall back on, King is pleased his side has home ground advantage for Week 1 of the tie.

"It sounds weird, the second-to-last match being so crucial.

"It's all a bit of hearsay between us. They would have heard things about us and we about them.


"We've got to figure each other out pretty quickly.

"It's football, all it takes is one goal."

Buoyed by the 7-0 hammering of Red Sox Manawatu last weekend, King has his full squad still available, with the exception of Scott Burney, who needed stitches after his forehead was laid open in a nasty head clash with visiting player Ben Jourdain.

King said the doctors had cleared Burney for physical activity, but not heading the ball.

"That's kind of his strong point - headers. We talked about it and although it's disappointing, he'll sit out this week."

After his fortnight stand down for the red card against Massey, Quinn Mailman makes a timely return and is eager to get back to work, although his personal goal of the Golden Boot is now likely beyond him with North End's Nathan Cooksley having moved up to 15 goals ahead of Hokowhitu's Nick Carrick (12).

King also had a sit down chat with his star attacker and knows he will put the team's goals first today.

"Quinn's mature enough, certainly matured over the past two seasons."

Team mate Josh Smith's two goals last weekend moved him up to a share of third on the Golden Boot list with 10.

Meanwhile, Versatile Wanganui City (4-1-8) want to make it a fun Saturday all around as they finish their campaign down at Skoglund against the winless Red Sox (0-1-8).

Having beaten Red Sox 4-0 back on May 28, coach Kelvin Francis said the defensive tactics of the wooden spooners, who park the bus in front of goal, means City will go back to a 4-4-2 formation for the first time in several weeks when they were facing the stronger squads.

"There's nothing to lose, really. We're going to go down there and enjoy ourselves.

"We'll play with freedom, but Merrick [Slade, goal keeper] wants to keep a clean sheet and the back three don't want to see too much action."

Francis can take most of the squad, minus Anthony Bell who is in Bali, while the team's iron man Latham Berry will unfortunately have to miss the last League game after his ankle swelled up purple following an injury against PN Marist, where he and a defender kicked the ball at the same time from opposite directions, creating a dead stop.

"It's a real shame. He's been a massive part of our midfield," said Francis.

Veteran Chris Annabell has made himself available again to fill the vacancy.

Francis is also hoping Jake Lockett's confidence stays sky high after he scored 16 points in his final rugby game of the year as his Marist Buffalo's won the Wanganui Senior Consolation trophy against Kaierau last weekend.

In any case, it will be a good night as Francis has planned a long end-of-season trip back from Palmerston North for his team, making pit stops at several establishments along the way.

Both League matches kickoff at 2.45pm.

In other games this weekend, the GJ Gardner Homes Wanganui Athletic Reserves travel to Ashurst to meet DFC in the Horizons Premiership, while tomorrow, Football Whanganui host New Plymouth Girls High at Wembley in the GR Engineering Women's Federation League.