The search for silver has become the brawl for bronze as GJ Gardner Wanganui Athletic rematch North End AFC in their rescheduled first round Lotto Federation League game at Skoglund Park today.
Devastated to have twice given up the lead at Wembley Park last Saturday in the 3-2 injury time loss, Athletic (6-1-6) can no longer catch North End (9-1-3) to finish season runnerup for the League, but are the side which still has something to lose.
Their neighbours on the table in Hokowhitu FC (6-1-6) and Massey (5-3-5) are also playing their rescheduled May 27 match at Memorial Park and Athletic coach Jason King does not need reminding a promising campaign, which briefly had his side as title contenders, could now slip down as low as a fourth-place finish, depending on results.
"Hopefully they'll have a nice draw, which makes it easier for us," King said.
"I sound like a broken record – last week it was 'we have to work to come second', and now it's 'work to keep third'.
"We've got one job, one result, to confirm our position, otherwise we've got to wait around to see what happens [at Memorial] and I don't want to do that."
Josh Smith scored twice last week to put Athletic's noses in front, only for that nose to be cut off by reply goals from North End on each occasion.
It made Athletic desperate in the final throes of the match, whereas North End could play for a tie, and after holding back the home side's best shot from Ryan Holden and Quinn Mailman, the visitors coolly worked William Hodge into position to steal the match, three minutes into injury time.
"Even with the draw, the result wasn't what we wanted," said King.
"[So] we threw things forward.
"Certainly, we're looking forward to returning the favour."
While King will take a full roster down the road today for the extra weekend of games, four players who had already made post-season plans are unavailable.
Therefore, coming back up from the GJ Gardner Wanganui Athletic Reserves team will be the capable David Garner, along with the second team's leader Alex Rothman, who deserves a run with the firsts after a committed season in the Horizons Premiership.
The longer Premiership season carries on all the way through to September 1, including today as the Athletic Reserves face the Palmerston North Marist Reserves at Wembley Park.
King admitted this means the squad will miss out on the opportunity to contest the local end-of-season Charity Cup competitions, which are scheduled to start on August 18 with the Plate and Bowl qualifiers, before the finals the following week.
"We can't have our local players sitting around and waiting for just one team."
Both Athletic games today kickoff at 2.45pm.
Also wrapping up their season tomorrow are Football Whanganui in the GR Engineering Women's Federation League, as they travel up to Onuku Taipari Domain to meet Moturoa AFC, with kickoff 1pm.