Central Coast coach Lawrie McKinna has suggested his slumping A-League club no longer deserves to win the minor premiership after their meek finish to the regular season.
Having led the competition for all but two of the opening 19 rounds, the Mariners will start next week's home-and-away finale off the top perch and relying on other results to secure the league title after their 2-1 loss to Newcastle at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday night.
It was the club's third straight home loss - all three of which have come in front of record home crowds - and leaves McKinna's men with just one win from their last seven games.
McKinna said it would be "gut wrenching" if his team failed to claim the minor premiership - and the Asian Champions League berth that comes with it - but after conceding 12 goals in their three home loses had no one else to blame but themselves.
"We spoke before the game and three-quarters of the team has never won a championship," McKinna said.
"We set ourselves up to do it and it's gut wrenching that you're letting that slip ... it's a shame that we worked so hard and let that slip, because that was a big thing.
"When you play week in, week out, the minor premiership is a big thing and to have your hands on it all year and then let it slip, it's hard.
"(But) three home games, three bad results, no excuses, that's not good enough.
"If you're going to win the minor premiership you've got to win your home games.
"Our hard work was all done in the beginning of the season and mid-season, but we've just tapered off at the wrong time ... we can only wish (of winning the minor premiership), but we don't deserve it.
"We just have to try and pick things up for the finals."
The Mariners could tumble as low as fourth for the semis if they fail to beat Wellington Phoenix at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday.
They are already set to begin the playoffs in the worst form of their season and are in serious danger of being eliminated in the first round if McKinna can't stop the rot.
"Basically we just have to try and focus on next week and get a result, try to finish second spot, if not first, and try and build things up for the finals," McKinna said.
"The hard work's all been done ... we just have to find a way to pick that back up."
Captain Alex Wilkinson insisted the pressure wasn't getting to his side.
"I wouldn't put it down to pressure at all, we're all professionals and we've all played big games before, so I don't think that's the case at all," he said.
"I don't think confidence is an issue, I think we've had confidence in ourselves all year, I just think as Lawrie says we're giving away silly goals and you just can't do that, especially at this time of the season.
"It's just not good enough."