Fareham’s dramatic late win on the final day of the NOW: Pensions Western Conference season has ended Havant’s proud 28-year stint as an England Hockey national league club.
While Fareham were playing their Get out of Jail card six minutes from the end to beat Isca 3-2 in Exeter, Havant lost 1-0 to newly crowned Western Conference champions Cardiff & Met.
The result – it was Havant’s 11th defeat in the last 12 matches – means Merijn van Willigen’s side finish bottom of the pile and are relegated into the South Premier League next season.
Ironically, they will be replaced by near rivals Chichester, who have won the feeder Premier League title.
The same fate would have befallen Fareham had they lost to Isca, who now go into the sudden death play-offs.
Head coach Andy Barnes and his relieved squad can look down from the comparative lofty heights of a final fourth-from-bottom placement.
In years to come, it may look as though Fareham survived with some comfort – but that was anything but the case.
They simply had to triumph on a ‘win or bust’ final day in Exeter – but, to their credit, they rose to the occasion and pulled off a dramatic 3-2 victory.
“‘The team did everything I asked for. We played with bravery, composure, quality in the circle and we took our chances,” said Barnes.
“ISCA seemed to be happy to play for a draw which helped us. Crucially we scored our third shortly after their equaliser.’’ Fareham made the perfect start, scoring from their first excursion into the Isca D. Alex Boxall was able to use his pace to create an opening and send a reverse stick shot screaming into the net.
Fareham almost doubled their lead soon afterwards – James Seager shooting just too high – but Isca responded with Sam Lynch picking up a rebound off the pads of George Harris to level the scores.
But Fareham changed round at half-time 2-1 ahead courtesy of Seager, who picked up possession in the Isca half and beat two defenders to score.
Boxall might well have added a third soon after half-time.
His miss was to prove costly.
Just after the hour mark, Isca equalised through Tom Whitworth to make it 2-2 with 13 minutes of the match – and the season – remaining.
With news of Havant’s demise leaking through – a 53rd-minute penalty corner conversion by Cardiff’s Henry Erikson sent them down – a draw was enough to keep Isca and Fareham off bottom spot.
But Fareham didn’t want any repeat of their previous ‘adventures’ into the relegation play-offs and grabbed the winner six minutes from time.
Shaun Baker got it, robbing an Isca defender and sprinting into the D before beating the Isca keeper – ironically, with a miscued shot which trickled in.
Fareham’s agony had ended – and Western Conference hockey will return to Henry Cort again in the autumn.