Tim Southee is wary of the threat Sri Lanka's Angelo Mathews poses to New Zealand on day two of the second Test.

Mathews was 27 not out at stumps after 14 wickets fell in Christchurch on Wednesday, Sri Lanka reaching the close on 88-4 after the Black Caps were removed for 178 on a green wicket.

The former Sri Lanka skipper scored an unbeaten 121 to salvage a draw in Wellington and Southee would like to see him removed early on Thursday.

"That first hour [on Thursday] is crucial," said Southee, who also took 3-24 to keep the pressure on the tourists. 

"He's [Mathews] a class player. He's played a lot of Test cricket and he's been out to New Zealand a number of times and is reasonably familiar with these conditions.

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"He had a great start in Wellington, so he's flying high on confidence. He's a big wicket, but I don't think we can put all our energy on him, there's still some quality guys to come as well."

New Zealand was 64-6 when Southee took to the crease, Suranga Lakmal having claimed four of his five wickets – his final figures of 5-54 were his best in a Test innings – by that point.

Only Southee's brilliant 68 off 65 deliveries as part of a 108-run partnership with BJ Watling gave the Black Caps a more respectable score.

"We knew there was going to be a little bit of assistance for the bowlers," said Southee.

"I think the way Lakmal bowled, he bowled exceptionally well and asked some tough questions.

"We've had other teams come to this part of the world and we've lost the toss and still been able to put a reasonable score on the board, so I think a lot of credit has to go to the way Lakmal bowled early on."