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Otago United produced better form but still lost 2-0 to Hawkes Bay United at Napier's Blue Water Stadium yesterday.
Regan Coldicott returned to Otago's ranks after a one-week suspension, while Hawkes Bay's Harley Rodeka was missing for disciplinary reasons.
The first half had both teams feeling each other out cautiously, but it was not long before there was goal-mouth action.
Tristan Prattley suffered a slight head injury in a melee created by a Bay free kick, but the defender was able to continue.
Scott Gannon earned a start against his old club and the opposition's golden boot contender, Sean Lovemore, showed his pace on a run that threatened Otago's goal.
In to replace regular keeper Liam Little, who was a late withdrawal, veteran Peter Evans mopped up the danger and had a steady match for Otago.
Coldicott showed his class with a darting run that found space in the Bay penalty area, and was unlucky when his firm shot rebounded off keeper Richard Gillespie's upright.
A flurry of activity had Morgan Day in referee Matt Conger's book for a late tackle on Gillespie, then Lovemore hacked a shot over Otago's crossbar. Joel Stevens hit a neat half volley over the Bay woodwork as halftime approached.
The start of the second spell was disastrous for Otago as Lovemore's pace earned space and his far post cross was headed in by Rudi Bauerfiend to put the home side ahead after 47 minutes.
The game opened up as Connor Tinnion hit a rasper at Evans in goal, then Coldicott replied with a shot for Otago, just before being subbed by Sam Mepham with 25 minutes to go.
Benjudah Fitzpatrick replaced Day as Otago gambled to introduce some physical pressure but, as it chased an equaliser, gaps were left at the back.
Lovemore took advantage, using his speed to slice through and beat Evans with a shot into the bottom left corner in the 77th minute for a 2-0 scoreline.
The goal kept Lovemore at the top of the golden boot race with six goals, and virtually ended any hopes of Otago gleaning something from the game.
In a final flurry, Aaron Burgess flicked a header goalwards but the ball hit the post and left coach Richard Murray musing that 12cm of wood had cost his side two goal-scoring chances that could have drawn the match.
In other matches, Canterbury hammered Waikato 5-0, Wellington beat Manawatu 3-1, and the Waitakere-Auckland derby finished 1-1.
Hawkes Bay United 2
Rudi Bauerfiend, Sean Lovermore
Otago United 0