Fareham twice came from behind to lead Cardiff & Met 3-2 going into the final phase of a National League Western Conference thriller – only to have the win points prised away from them seven minutes from time.
The 3-3 draw nudges Fareham into seventh place ahead of Sunday’s final match of the calendar year against early season leaders Bristol University, who ended a five-game losing run with a 4-0 victory over winless Isca.
“It was so disappointing. We had worked so hard to get ourselves in to a winning position. Our guys were pretty gutted that we had let the win slip out of our grasp,” reflected Fareham coach Ben Barnes.
“But you have to take your hat off to how Cardiff did not give up. With a team full of internationals, many who played at the Commonwealth Games this year, they have plenty of quality and experience.
“A draw was a fair result and one that many might have seen as a good one for us, but on reflection we are not happy with it entirely, the guys were disappointed.”
Fareham were chasing the game from the third minute, having lost possession in the visitors’ half and had no time to recover as Cardiff broke from their own 23m line to the Henry Cort clubhouse end where Rhys Bradshaw converted.
Cardiff were a well drilled unit, restricting Fareham to two first half short corners, the second of which saw goalkeeper James Fortnam beat a Jamie Rawlings drag flick away with his outstretched legs.
“Cardiff could easily have added to that early goal, but we defended well and at 0-1 at the break we had a real opportunity to get back into the game,” Barnes added.
It took Fareham three second half minutes to equalise – the goal coming after a Niall Stott penalty corner shot was cleared off the Cardiff line.
But Chris Davey worked the ball back in and Martin Gough tucked it home.
Within seven minutes Cardiff had restored their lead with Jack Pritchard’s tenth goal of the season, but Fareham were quick to respond and equalised with a slick team goal.
Stott was once again involved, working the ball up to Gough, who returned the compliment by teeing up Davey to make it 2-2.
“We were playing well, with the energy and commitment from the squad excellent and going 3-2 up with eight minutes left was nothing more than we deserved,” the coach said.
Stott, hugely influential in the Fareham engine room, and Rawlins both had shots saved before the former Scottish international powered home a drag flick to give Fareham a 3-2 advantage.
But sides are so often vulnerable directly they’ve scored and Fareham found themselves pulled out of position and Carl McKenzie roofed Cardiff’s heartbreak equaliser.
Stott and McKenzie rather unnecessarily saw yellow soon afterwards and with the Scotsman carded, Fareham’s chances of victory went to the sin-bin with him.
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