David Hosking says Ararat's clash with the Horsham Saints at Alexandra Oval tomorrow afternoon is a classic eight point game of football.
The stakes are incredibly high for a round 10 match, with outright third position on the ladder up for grabs as the Rats and Saints find themselves locked on 24 points apiece.
Both teams have faced a short turnaround this week after playing on Sunday, with the Saints causing an upset over Horsham to record their fourth win on the trot, while Ararat was too good for arch rival Stawell.
"It is a bit of a clich but this whole year has been full of important games, I keep saying there are no easy ones and as we move through the season I really don't reckon there are," Hosking said.
"Even the Stawell game where we won by 37 points, I don't think that is a real convincing win in my opinion, but that was a danger game we just had to get through.
"Now this one they're fourth, we're third and both are on the same points. We will either go four ahead of them or four behind, so it is a classic eight point game."
The Rats will take plenty of confidence into this match, having defeated last year's grand finalists by 10 points in round three.
Hosking said that match was Ararat's best win of the season so far, but conceded Horsham Saints are a much improved unit to the one the Rats faced nine weeks ago.
Hosking and Andrew Louder know their team still has room for improvement and the coaches have put it on the midfield to drive that progression.
"We need to get a better effort from our midfield in terms of defence," Hosking said.
"I know I harp on it, but it is still not what it has got to be. You can't point at any one individual, you have to look at it collectively.
"The whole lot from Dan Mendes down, so Aaron (Searle), Jack (Ganley), Alan (Batchelor), Harry (Ganley) they've all got to do better defensively.
"They are improving there is no doubt about that, but they still have to get better again.
"And in actual fact I would have thought the last time we played these blokes, that was our best defensive effort in terms of midfield and across the ground. We were pretty ferocious and tackled hard."
Jake Williamson and Tyler Cronin's return will bolster the Rats after both were given an extra week to recover from hamstring injuries.
Williamson will combine well in defence with in-form duo Peter Thompson and Brady Miller, adding extra experience and stability, while Cronin, who has kicked 14 goals in 2014, is another X-factor in the forward-50.
“Tyler is a dangerous forward and I like having dangerous forwards in the team,” Hosking said.
“If you have Beau (Cosson), Cav (Liam Cavanagh), Northy (Matt North), Tyler, Harry, Jimmy Laidlaw isn’t in the side this week, but with these blokes it is hard to keep them all quiet all day.”
Zach Louder will be forced to shoulder the majority of the ruck work tomorrow, with fellow tall Dan Vearing injuring his knee during the clash with the Warriors.
The Saints have played impressive football in the past month, with scalps including contenders Minyip/Murtoa and the Demons, along with reigning premiers Dimboola.
Hosking said stopping the visitors’ momentum early is a must.
“Look at us in our first four games, we had momentum and we were travelling along pretty nicely,” he said.
“The first loss came from Horsham and it was ding-dong struggle all day, but they kicked the first goal of that match and they kicked it early.
“It is about making a statement, Demons did that and it was like saying ‘you blokes might have won four in a row and you might be going well, but guess what we still think we are top dogs’.
“We have to make a statement like that early and look to shut them down, because it is hard to change momentum around — the key is to not let them get hold of it.”