Coach UFUK TALAY. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Two recent losses have sharpened the senses at Wellington Phoenix, who are desperate not to let their mid-season A-League streak go to waste.
For the first time in a month, Wellington's top-six status is under threat as they prepare to host the dangerous Melbourne City at Eden Park on Saturday.
Last week's 4-2 loss at Perth Glory means the Phoenix have picked up three points from their past three games, and the solitary win was a lucky home result against last-placed Newcastle.
A loss to second-placed City would leave Ufuk Talay's men vulnerable to dropping outside the top six, something that seemed a distant prospect while compiling their nine-game unbeaten run.
With 10 rounds still to play, vice-captain Alex Rufer is already predicting a "nail-biting" fight to secure a finals berth.
They had opened up breathing space on mid-table rivals Adelaide, Brisbane and Western United but now find themselves caught up in a scrap.
"We've had a few poor results recently so the test is now to bounce back. It makes us hungry to get back to how we were playing and getting the results that we were," Rufer said.
"There's six, seven, eight teams going to be pushing for that top six. It's a good test now against teams above us, to see where we're at."
History is on Wellington's side this week.
They've never lost any of their six games at Eden Park and Melbourne City have been toppled on their last three trips across the Tasman.
The Phoenix are also at close full strength aside from suspended right back Tim Payne, who was controversially shown two yellow cards against Glory.
Talay has a selection conundrum up front, having demoted Gary Hooper to the bench in Perth, only for the English marquee striker to score both of their late goals.
Former Celtic star Hooper made it clear this week he wants to start but he has struggled to find his best form from the opening whistle, meaning Talay may stick with a front two of David Ball and Ulises Davila, his two most effective forwards this season.
In central midfield, German Matti Steinmann has shaken off illness, lifting him into a three-way battle for two spots with All White Rufer and the in-form Cameron Devlin.
Rufer recently returned from six weeks sidelined by a knee injury and believes he can make a difference in a battle between two of the best possession-based teams in the league.
"There's a competition for spots, no doubt, but I'm motivated to pick up where I left off," he said.