Southampton have come out tops in the see-saw promotion battle with the city university which ebbed and flowed like the tide and culminated in a thrilling finale to the Hampshire/Surrey Regional Division 2 season.
Will Richardson’s deflected drag flick penalty corner two minutes from time against City of Portsmouth ultimately proved a promotion clincher for Southampton.
But it was nerve jangling stuff right down to the wire as, with the clock ticking down, it was all square in the matches involving the local pair.
Southampton University, though playing catch up throughout the 70 minutes, were drawing 4-4 with Camberley & Farnborough.
Southampton were being held 3-3 in Portsmouth.
Had they been the final scores, the Wessex students – one point ahead at the start of the last round of games – would have won promotion alongside champions Basingstoke.
But thanks to Richardson’s strangled last gasp shot it was Southampton who regained the Regional 1 slot they surrendered at the end of last season.
Beaten by the university in their previous game, Southampton began on a positive note and inside ten minutes were ahead – Stu Anderson setting up Rob O’Brien for a close range finish.
Portsmouth equalised from a James Stevenson penalty corner, but Southampton regained the lead with O’Brien scoring a superb individualist second goal.
City’s prowess from short corners unhinged Southampton again – a set piece by Adam Payne ten minutes after the break levelling matters.
Ten minutes remained when Southampton scored a third. O’Brien was the creator, teeing up Andy Ball for a far post tap-in. But City of Portsmouth weren’t finished and with five minutes left on the clock George Podd bundled in a third equalising goal.
It was all hands to the pump now and two minutes from time Southampton forced a penalty corner which Richardson put away, albeit via a deflection.
The game may have been won 4-3 – but Southampton still had no idea how the university had fared at Camberley.
“We spent an agonising half-hour trying to get the university results and it wasn’t until they phoned us with news of their 4-4 draw that we knew we were up,” explained Paul Meacher, Southampton’s manager.
“The university were always behind and we were always ahead. Thank goodness neither of us knew.
“It was all somewhat surreal having won the City of Portsmouth game, and being delighted to at least have fulfilled our requirements from the day, we still had no idea what it meant for us.”
Meacher believes the future looks bright for Southampton back in Regional Division 1.
“We are still a very young side, but are gradually maturing and have a good foundation to build on,” he pointed out. “It is essentially the same side that was relegated, but with everybody a year older and a bit smarter. “In the second half of this season we were grinding out the 1 goal victories, whereas last year we would have been on the receiving end.
“But we still have room for improvement, not least that we need to finish games off when we are on top.”