Four goals down at half-time and in danger of being swept aside, Fareham produced an astonishing second half comeback to peg Cardiff & Met to 4-4 – only for the National League Western Conference leaders to snatch the winner four minutes from the end.
Five points clear at the top, Cardiff are favourites for the WC title and when they rattled three five mid-first half minutes past George Harris, an easy win appeared theirs for the taking.
Jack Pritchard, with two goals in successive attacks, and Ioan Wall had Fareham’s backs to the wall and when Charles Hunte made it 4-0 before half-time a potential rout seemed on the cards.
“We gave the ball away far too cheaply in the first half, but in the second we were excellent and had Cardiff panicking,” reflected head coach Ben Barnes.
Fareham scored three goals in 11 minutes, with Jamie Rawlings converting two penalty corners and James Evans scoring his first club goal from open play.
On the hour mark Fareham scored an equalising fourth goal – Rawlings completing a hat-trick of drag flick short corners.
How ironic Fareham had been so inept at set-pieces against Isca a fortnight before !
Cardiff, whose 1-1 draw with Cheltenham in November is the only blemish on an otherwise perfect 14-match season, were in a state of panic – but Fareham were unable to strike the killer blow.
Four minutes from the end, Luke Hawker got Cardiff’s winner – and Fareham left Sophia Gardens deflated.
Barnes “I am disappointed for the team as we deserved more than the final result.
“A game of two halves was personified with us being 4-0 down at half time. But the guys rallied well, and went out with the attitude of trying to get something out of the second half, if nothing else.
“Getting back to 4-4 was nothing more than our efforts deserved, we dominated in all areas second half and had them panicking.
“We did give the ball away too cheaply first half, but I can’t fault the efforts in the second half, it was nothing short of excellent in getting back to 4-4.
It could have been worse for Fareham, as Bristol University, the only side beneath them in the log, led Chichester 2-0 at half-time before the West Sussex hosts scored twice after the break to salvage a 2-2 draw.
It leaves Fareham (who visit Cheltenham on Sunday) one point clear of the Bristol students, whose visit to Henry Cort on March 18 will decide who goes down.
Welcome to Vimps at the Hockey
Powered by Cricket-Hockey.com, the hockey equipment specialists in Downton, Salisbury