Positives for Waikato in late goal heartbreak
The scorelines were vastly different but the mental anguish for coach Mark Cossey was agonisingly similar.
Less than a week after being hammered 9-1 at home in the ASB Premiership, Waikato FC came within minutes of an upset result in Wellington on Saturday in a 1-0 loss to Team Wellington.
The hosts netted the winner in the 89th minute when a rare defensive lapse in concentration allowed Luke Rowe to score with a diving header after Waikato had been the better team in a feisty clash in which nine players were booked.
"It was gut-wrenching," admitted Cossey, but he was able to take consolation from a vastly improved performance from his side based chiefly on a switch in attitude.
"We worked quite hard this week and I said to the players: ‘you're good players, but you're not great players'. To be a great player you have to have a bit more heart, more work-rate, more everything."
His troops provided that in Wellington and, had they managed a little more assuredness in front of goal, and a slice of good fortune, they may have shocked Wellington, who are still chasing a playoff spot.
Waikato were again denied a legitimate penalty claim - one of many they have failed to find favour with the match officials this season - when striker Sonny Singh, who gained a first start along with goalkeeper Jason Mann, was bundled over in the box.
Singh also missed a couple of chances to put Waikato in front during the first half, during which hugely promising young Wellington goalkeeper Scott Basalaj was in outstanding form.
Cossey felt his side should continue to improve following the shellshock of the 9-1 demolition from defending champs Waitakere United.
"I'd never been in a game like it - and nor had they," Cossey said. "This time we had a lot more spirit and fight.
"We attacked, we moved the ball a lot better and we had a lot of people after the game tell us we were unlucky - even their coach said they got out of jail.
"That's all I can ask for - if we lose, I want us to lose with heart and fight, and that's what we did.
"They're not professionals, they're not getting paid, there's a number travelling down from Auckland every week to train - we've just got to compete and yesterday [Saturday] I thought we did," Cossey said.