Fareham produced arguably their best performance of the season, but despite twice taking a first half lead against Cardiff & Met, were eventually beaten 3-2 by the National League Western Conference title favourites.
They belied their winless, bottom of the table status with an exhilarating performance, which clearly rattled Cardiff.
But come the final whistle, a seventh defeat in nine matches has left them in the automatic relegation position, trailing newly promoted University of Bristol by three points.
That gap would have been wider had Fair Oak-based Martin Gough not scored twice in the last nine minutes to rescue a 3-3 draw for Chichester against the Bristol students.
Head Coach Ben Barnes reflected: “The defeat was disappointing, but the way we played against the best team in the league was very encouraging.
“We attacked with conviction and good numbers, put Cardiff under pressure when we managed the ball well and had good opportunities to score.
“We were good for our 2-1 lead at half time, but Cardiff came out and did show why they are top of the league - but at 2-2 we had a couple of good chances and had them on the back foot.
“The commitment of the team could not be questioned and we need to take that fighting spirit in to Sunday’s visit to Chichester.”
Fareham survived an early penalty corner which Luke Hawker screamed fractionally too high and took a 12th minute lead from a penalty stroke.
Cardiff were fortune not to concede a stroke when James Seager was taken out from behind but from the resulting penalty corner, Alex Boxall had a shot blocked by the upright.
Seager sent goalkeeper James Fortnam the wrong way from the stroke.
Cardiff struck the Fareham post, but were largely on the back foot – until James Kyriakades levelled after a set piece.
Undeterred, Fareham hit back and after Boxall’s shot had been saved, Rob Wilson followed up to give the Henry Cort hosts an unexpected interval lead.
George Harris pulled off several fine saves as Cardiff stepped up the second half pressure – their endeavours being rewarded with a reverse stick equaliser by Jack Pritchard.
Twice Fareham got away on the break, with Australian Sasha Thomas denied.
But Cardiff made their chances count and midway through the half Ioan Wall converted a short corner to give the Welshmen a 3-2 victory.
It was a disappointing outcome for Fareham, whose performance deserved better rewards.
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