Despite looking down the barrel after losing the opening playoff game 3-1, Palmerston North Marist could have almost climbed the mountain to next year's Central League.
Needing a win over Upper Hutt at Wakefield Park in Wellington by three goals yesterday to guarantee a return to the Central League next season, Marist took the lead on the back of numerous chances before a late Upper Hutt goal killed the game with a 1-all draw.
Marist coach Matt Kennedy said it was his side's best performance of the season and with a little bit of luck in front of goal, the result could have been far different.
"It was a big mountain to climb but we had plenty of chances to do the job," Kennedy said. "I couldn't ask anything more from the players, they gave everything they had."
Defender Kent Stockman put Marist ahead at the start of the second half and an all-out attack threw up chance after chance for Marist to add to their lead. Upper Hutt struggled to cope with an attacking effort much more powerful than last Saturday's limp effort at Memorial Park when they were well beaten. "We had them under plenty of pressure throughout the game," he said.
"We got the ball into their goal box so many times and had numbers in there; we just couldn't get the final touch."
Marist will now return to the Central region's top championship, though there could be changes in the wind with a possibility the Western Premiership's top-four sides including Marist, Red Sox-Manawatu, Team Taranaki and Wanganui City could join the top sides in the Hawke's Bay-Poverty Bay Pacific Premiership next season.
The season-ending Chinese Cup game between Manawatu's top two sides, Marist and Red Sox, has been postponed until start of next season.
■ The Palmerston North Boys' High School first XI won their final match of the national secondary schools tournament, finishing seventh, in Nelson on Friday.
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