By Tony Smith, The Press
Canterbury United have slipped to fourth in the national football premiership after their first home defeat of the season but they can still cement a place in the playoffs.
The Dragons' visit to fifth-placed Waitakere United on Sunday will be a virtual cup final. Coach Keith Braithwaite has done his maths homework.
"If we get a point up there we're through [to the semifinals]; it's all to play for," Braithwaite said as he glanced at a points table pasted on the Dragons' dressing room wall.
He was relatively relaxed for a man who had watched his team lose 2-1 to a 90th-minute goal by Hawke's Bay United defender Aaron Jones.
Hawke's Bay completed the season double over Canterbury to consolidate their hold on second place with 26 points - four behind Auckland City, who clinched the minor premiership title with a league-record 10-0 win over Southern United in Dunedin. Hawke's Bay are through to the playoffs for the second successive season.
Team Wellington took over third place from Canterbury after a 4-1 away win over Wanderers SC. They have 23 points, Canterbury 22 and Waitakere, who drew 1-1 with WaiBop United in Cambridge on Saturday, have 20.
Waitakere must beat Canterbury or risk failing to qualify for the playoffs for only the second time in the premiership's 10-year history.
Canterbury sorely missed striker Russell Kamo (who was serving a one-game suspension, along with defender Julyan Collett) and lacked their usual cutting edge up front.
Braithwaite began with regular midfielder Stu Kelly pushing up front alongside Federico Marquez but the move robbed the Dragons' engineroom of its most willing worker.
Hawke's Bay did an effective man-marking job on Canterbury playmaker Aaron Clapham. But Canterbury, who started well in the first quarter, raised their game after Kelly moved back to midfield in the second spell to provide Clapham with more support.
Canterbury should have scored in the 24th minute but both Shawn O'Brien and Marquez failed to pull the trigger and the Hawke's Bay defence, marshalled by ex-Canterbury captain Bill Robertson, cleared their lines.
Dragons keeper Adam Highfield hadn't had a shot to save before he was forced to fish the ball out of the net when Tom Biss scored after a superb ball by Sean Morris in the 31st minute.
Dragons centreback Tom Schwarz unleashed a 45m screaming shot that cannoned off the Hawke's Bay post.
Canterbury should have netted after the interval, but substitute striker Michael White failed to feed Clapham, unmarked outside him with only the keeper to beat.
Clapham missed a sitter in the 68th minute after deftly bringing down a cross. But he tried to place his shot rather than hammer it and the chance went begging.
He atoned two minutes later with a copybook penalty struck into the corner of the net after Marquez was chopped down while trying to tee up a shot.
Hawke's Bay kept counter-attacking effectively and almost scored when Harley Rodeka's shot hit the upright. Highfield also had to tip over Sean Lovemore's long-range effort.
Just as the game seemed destined for a draw, Canterbury let their guard drop and Jones glided in to head home a left wing cross.
Braithwaite felt Hawke's Bay "set up shop for a point, defended well and hit us on the break both times with their goals".
He said Canterbury "moved the ball around well", but "our final pass and final execution wasn't as good as it has been in previous weeks".
AT A GLANCE
Round 13 results (home teams first): Canterbury United 1 (Aaron Clapham pen) Hawke's Bay United 2 (Tom Biss, Aaron Jones); WaiBop United 1 (Jack McNab) Waitakere United 1 (Richie Cardozo). HT: 0-0; Southern United 0 Auckland City 10 (Emilano Tade 2, Darren White 2, Joao Moreira, Takuywa Iwata, Adam Dickinson, Chris Bale, Andrew Milne pen, Ryan de Vries). HT: 0-2; Wanderers SC 1 (Judd Baker) Team Wellington 4 (Henry Fa'arodo 2, Colin Murphy, Sam Mason-Smith). HT: 0-1. Points: Auckland City 30, Hawke's Bay United 26, Team Wellington 23, Canterbury United 22, Waitakere United 20, WaiBop United 14, Southern United 7, Wanderers SC 5. Golden Boot top scorers list: 9: Emilano Tade (Auckland), Henry Fa'arodo (Wellington). 8: Aaron Clapham (Canterbury), Charlie Henry (Wellington), Richie Cardozo (Waitakere).