Hamilton Wanderers have nothing to lose as they prepare for back-to-back clashes with Auckland City
The last thing you want when you're on a six-game winless streak is to play the best team in the competition.
Unfortunately for Hamilton Wanderers, that's what they've got, in the form of Auckland City, who will travel down State Highway 1 on Wednesday for a twilight kickoff at Porritt Stadium.
City may currently sit fourth on the Stirling Sports Premiership table, but they have two games in hand on all their rivals for the playoff spots, and have picked up an average of 1.86 points per game, the league's best mark.
Wednesday's game is the first of two meetings between the sides in the space of four days, with the reverse fixture to come on Sunday at Kiwitea St.
The unusual midweek game is a result of City's involvement in last year's Club World Cup (it would have been played on December 3 otherwise), though it was postponed again from two weeks ago in order to allow the Aucklanders to play in the Nike Lunar New Year Cup in Hong Kong, a tournament which they won.
While City remain the team to beat in the premiership, they have been somewhat off the boil of late, ending their own winless run of three games on Sunday with a 2-0 win over a Wellington Phoenix reserves outfit that was devoid of any senior players and its under-17 internationals.
Wanderers will sniff a chance then, but they will have to be more deadly with the boot than they have in recent weeks, with their goalless effort in a 1-0 loss to Tasman on Sunday a worrying sign.
Since the start of the year, they have scored just five goals in six matches, a huge decline from the 17 in eight they managed prior to Christmas, and there's no one who's more frustrated about that than their coach Mark Cossey, who was a prolific striker in his playing days, and wants his charges to be more decisive.
"What I loved to do is score goals, and that's what I'm trying to say to these boys," he said.
"If you're a defender, fine, defend, because that's what you wanted to be, but if you're a midfielder or a striker, they should be scoring or creating, that's their job. So you're going to have to shoot, otherwise you won't score. We're getting in good positions, but we're just taking the wrong options."
Wanderers' winless run has seen them pick up one point from a possible 18, but they have been good enough to deserve a few more, stymied by their own failings at both ends of the pitch, no doubt, but also by some calls that haven't gone their way, with the penalty shout denied in the loss at Eastern Suburbs the most egregious.
"The positive is that we've competed, the boys are still digging deep, but we're just not getting any luck, and we're not getting any consistency from referees," said Cossey.
"We're not giving up, we're still fighting. We're new to the league, so we're only going to get stronger."
As for the matches on Wednesday and Sunday, Cossey reckons the pressure is all on Auckland City, who are facing the toughest battle to make the top four that they've ever had, even if they are on track to finish in the top spot as things stand, and will be up against a Wanderers side that has nothing to lose, and is only playing for pride and to avoid the wooden spoon.
"They are one of the top teams, if not the top team, and they need the points, so at the end of the day, who's more nervous? We can't get in the top four, but they need points to get up there," said Cossey.
"We're going to try and get into them as much as we can, but still keep it tight at the back, because you can't open up against them, because they've got players that can really hurt you. I know they haven't scored a lot of goals over the season, but they've created heaps of chances."
Wednesday's game kicks off at 5.30pm.