BENDIGO City will be looking to get its season back on track when it hosts an imposing Melton Phoenix in their Men's State League 5 round nine fixture on Saturday.
The 5pm clash at Huntly Epsom Recreation Reserve will be as crucial as any played by the league's newcomers to this point in the season.
It will be a golden chance to atone for a disappointing 2-2 draw last week against bottom side Wyndham, a result that could well continue to haunt coach Greg Thomas' squad as the season progresses.
By banking only one point, City was left six points adrift of top side Barwon, which impressed in a 6-0 win over Maribyrnong Greens, and four behind this week's opponent the Phoenix.
A win over would not only bridge the gap significantly between itself and Melton, but reinstill confidence within the team following last week's shock result and the previous week's first loss of the season against Deakin University.
READ MORE: Missed opportunity disappoints Bendigo City
Thomas expects the Phoenix to be full of confidence after a solid 2-0 win over a tough Balmoral last week.
"It's going to be a big ask," he said.
"We're back at home, which is a plus. It's just our away form that is hurting us at the moment.
"Two draws, a loss and a win against two teams mid-table and two teams down the bottom of the table.
"To be brutally honest, it was pretty poor all round last week and the second half was our worst half of football all year.
"I would expect a bit of a response against Melton."
An obvious danger for City looms in the shape of sharpshooter Matthew Farrugia, who has slotted 10 goals this season for Melton, the league's equal highest-scoring team with 25 goals.
City will need a big game from its own forwards, with the Phoenix having conceded only five goals for the season at an average of less than one per game.
On the injury front, Thomas said skipper Aidan Lane, who has not played a game this season following a knee injury sustained in pre-season, was 'a month to six weeks' away from resuming training.
"We are really missing him at the moment and could really do with him," he said.
Meanwhile, Bendigo City's reserves clash against Melton Phoenix will be a top-of-the-ladder affair.
After a draw against Barwon and a loss to Deakin University, City got its season back on track with a 5-1 win over Wyndham last week to move to 6-1-1.
Melton advanced to 7-1 with a win over Balmoral and continues to lead City on the ladder by only two points.
In a tight championship race, third-placed Barwon is level with Bendigo City on 19 points, with Balmoral close by on 18.
Barwon (7 wins-1 loss-0 draws) 21 points
Melton Phoenix (6-1-1) 19
Bendigo City (4-1-3) 15
Deakin University (5-3) 15
Balmoral (4-2-2) 14
West Point (4-3-1) 13
Ballarat (3-2-3) 12
Maidstone United (3-5-0) 9
Lara United (2-4-2) 8
Maribyrnong Greens (2-5-1) 7
Surfside Waves (1-7-0) 3
Wyndham (0-7-1) 1
READ MORE: Aidan Lane proud to lead Bendigo City FC
MEANWHILE, Eaglehawk will be striving to inflict the first loss of the season upon Shepparton South in Saturday night's Central Victorian League 1 men's match of the round.
The Hawks, who are third on the ladder, host South under lights at Truscott Reserve.
The women's round gets under way on Saturday afternoon with Strathdale at home to Spring Gully United.
MEN'S LEAGUE 1 ROUND 6:
Strathdale v Strathfieldsaye Colts United (5pm Saturday); La Trobe University v Epsom (6pm Saturday); Eaglehawk v Shepparton South (7pm Saturday); Shepparton United v Spring Gully United (3pm Sunday); Golden City v Tatura (3pm Sunday).
WOMEN'S LEAGUE 1 ROUND 5:
Strathdale v Spring Gully United (1pm Saturday); Shepparton United v La Trobe University (10am Sunday); Strathfieldsaye Colts United v Eaglehawk (noon, Sunday).
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