A TEST against the competition pace-setters is the ideal scenario for a Warrnambool Rangers' outfit eager to respond from its first competition loss in two years.
The Rangers, who fell to Ballarat North United 4-3 on Sunday, will host undefeated Sebastopol Vikings at Jones Oval in round four.
Coach Cam Pyke said the clash - a match-up between Ballarat and District Soccer Association's top-two sides - would give his team a gauge on its prospects in 2022.
"They have the early advantage, having won their game on Sunday," he said.
"They also only had the one loss last year so they're very strong.
"The fact they won on Sunday and we didn't just means it's even more important for us to keep within touching distance points-wise on the ladder."
Warrnambool will require a full team effort to nullify Sebas.
"They are really strong across the board," Pyke said.
"They have some players who have played state league football before and they have dropped back to the BDSA.
"But, having not had the chance to play them for two-plus years (due to COVID), it's hard to know exactly what they will do well and how they'll play."
Pyke lamented the Rangers' lacklustre approach to the Ballarat North United match.
"It is our first competition loss in about two years," he said.
"It was disappointing to have a loss but at the same time it was probably the loss we needed to have.
"We didn't show up to play unfortunately. We cruised into the game with a bit too much confidence and they made us pay.
"We were always chasing, which made it hard."
Pyke, whose team was dealt three yellow cards and one red card, said the Rangers would heed lessons from the sloppy performance.
"Before the game, we didn't go in with enough commitment," he said.
"The warm-up was a bit lackadaisical.
"We probably underestimated our opponents too much and from the first whistle they brought the heat.
"We just couldn't stand up under the pressure and it's a loss we needed to have as it reignites that fire in us."
Pyke replaced up-and-coming goal keeper Jordan Whitton late in the game after he suffered a knee knock.
He is unsure if Whitton will play in this weekend's home game but is bullish about his long-term prospects.
"We'll wait and assess to see how he is," he said.
Whitton has impressed Pyke in the role this season.
"Jordan kept in the South West (Victoria Football Association) seniors last year and he's come to me and said he wants to improve his goal keeping and really take it on," he said.
"I gave him the opportunity to play in the BDSA comp.
"He's only a young guy so we'll give him an opportunity to develop as a goal keeper in a competition which requires him to be at the top level."
Pyke said he was spending reduced minutes on the pitch and was embracing the chance to coach from the sidelines.
In the women's competition, Warrnambool Rangers suffered a 9-0 loss to Ballarat North United.
They are chasing their first win since returning to the competition in round one after a hiatus from the competition.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.