Red Sox-Manawatu face a tough climb back to the top of the Western Premiership when they take on Palmerston North Marist at Memorial Park tomorrow.
Marist sit at the top on goal difference, with Red Sox in fourth place – but only three points adrift.
Red Sox coach Aaron Clegg knows last week's 0-1 loss to Team Taranaki has been costly, but he feels the team will be better tomorrow.
"We had three weeks off and you could see [that] although our fitness was there, our mental sharpness wasn't," he said. "We're focused on playing the way we play, not focusing on what they might do."
Both teams have looked dangerous this season, showing similar pace down the wings and good finishing up front.
Clegg said the game would be won or lost in how the defence copes with each other's quick breaks.
"We need to be on our game when it comes to closing them down early. That needs to happen all over the park."
Red Sox will be counting on a solid game from defender Dalin Wilson against a potent Marist attack which has scored 34 times this season.
Their last encounter at Memorial Park ended in a 1-all draw.
Red Sox and Wanganui City have two games in hand, meaning a win this weekend will tighten up an already jammed top-four leading up to the playoffs.
North End will hope to restore pride in their game against Team Taranaki in New Plymouth on Sunday.
They sit 12 points behind fourth-placed Red Sox after an inconsistent season.
Palmerston North Boys' High School will be favourites when they take on bottom team Wanganui Athletic away tomorrow. Wanganui Athletic have had just one win this season, conceding 47 goals while scoring only five.
Unbeaten Massey University will look to build on a five-point lead at the top of the women's central league when they play third-placed Seatoun in the capital on Sunday.
Massey's golden boot shoo-in Emma Boyack will be hoping to add to her 23 goals this season and extend Massey's winning streak to 10.
Valeron Wanderers play bottom side Lower Hutt at Memorial Park.
A win against the Wellington side would secure Valeron's position in the middle of the table and provide a welcome gap from teams near the bottom.
Valeron coach Craig Newell said his team was confident and looking to build on an impressive first season in the league.
"It's probably our most important game of the season. We think we can win it."
The final few games of the season are important for Valeron, Newell said.
"We need to get some good results from our next three games.
"If we do that, we could be looking at finishing in fourth place, which would be a great result."
- Manawatu Standard
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