The Weston Bears face a hard road to make the NPL semi-finals after a 4-2 loss to Broadmeadow Magic at Magic Park on Saturday.
Off the back of a frustrating draw away to Valentine Phoenix the week before, the Bears knew they had the game to beat their opponent after a 3-2 win at home two weeks ago but fully aware they needed to be on song from the opening whistle.
The Bears may have been on notice but in a highly inauspicious start they watched Magic's Sam Walker rifle home a low drive from the edge of the box after just 42 seconds of play.
Weston appeared to be getting back into the contest, but Magic struck again. A deep cross fired into the back post in the 23rd minute found Jarred Baker unmarked, the winger producing a great volley that hit the deck and bounced over stand-in keeper Brendan Short and into the net.
Once again the Bears began to work their way back into the contest off the back of some patient build up play, but clear cut chances were few and far between.
Again the hosts punished them on the scoreboard, a John Majurovski header at the back stick doing the damage with what was the final touch of the ball before the break.
Luke Virgili looked dangerous all afternoon and was rewarded in the 71st minute, as another deep cross - this time from a corner - made its way to the back post where he dispatched the ball via a heavy deflection to give the Magic a dominant 4-0 lead.
It took until the final five minutes for the Bears to truly come alive, when it was all too late. A through ball to Chris Hurley in the 89th minute saw him get to the byline and cut back for Aaron Niyonkuru, who buried his strike underneath Magic custodian Lachlan Watson.
Short produced an excellent one-on-one save a minute later before Hurley was once again involved in the action in the 92nd, collecting the ball in midfield and driving toward the box before rifling a peach of a low drive off his left foot from 20 to elude Watson in the bottom right corner.
Despite capturing some excellent momentum, there was no time for the Bears to further reduce the deficit and they were left to rue how long it took them to find their feet on the afternoon.
The Bears are now positioned rather precariously on the ladder and will need to take maximum points from their remaining fixtures in addition to hoping other results fall favourably for them in order to feature in the post-season.
They will host the Jaffas next week in a do or die contest against a side who are powerful on paper but who have had similarly mixed form this season to date.