Fareham’s immediate future as a National Hockey League club is dangling by a thread.
A 5-3 last match defeat by Birmingham University, coupled with an unexpected win by fellow strugglers Chichester and Isca drawing, plunged Fareham into the bottom two in the final Western Conference table.
Now they’ll need to win a desperate three-way relegation play-off battle next month to stave off the drop, writes Mike Vimpany.
Indian Gymkhana and Liverpool-based Oxton, who kick start the play-offs in Osterley on Sunday, are the clubs Fareham must beat.
Fareham go to Merseyside on Saturday week, April 9 and then host Indian Gymkhana at Henry Cort on April 22.
Fareham needed a positive result in the Midlands to ensure finishing out of the bottom two (Bristol University were already relegated), but their world fell apart at the hands of the Birmingham students who had little but pride to play for.
They must have felt their luck was in when the Birmingham goalkeeper was injured in the warm up – forcing the University to play with a kicking-back as one of 11 outfield players.
Fareham began pretty well, with Chris Davey guiding them into a sixth minute lead.
But an ill-timed yellow card for Fareham turned the tide – with Birmingham’s 11 outfielders too much for the visitors’ nine to cope with.
Birmingham scored three times in seven critical minutes – Tom Poustie, George Sweting and Ed Whitworth were on target – and Fareham were in serious trouble.
Rob Wilson clawed it back to 3-2 before the break, but two subsequent penalty corner conversions by Sweeting and Matt Clee broke Fareham’s hearts.
James Evans got a third for Fareham at the end.
Downcast Fareham head coach Ben Barnes, who has rebuilt last season’s fourth-placed side, reflected: “It was a very cruel day that sport can sometimes throw at you.
“Having worked so hard to have the opportunity to stay out of the play-offs it was tough.
“At Christmas, making the play-offs was not a guarantee as we were level with Bristol on points.
“Even at the half way point on two points and six (points) from safety, we had done well to not be relegated automatically.
“Focusing on the positives and bouncing back for our first play-off match in Liverpool is going to be so important.”
Fareham’s slender hopes of avoiding the play-offs were dashed when Chichester, 3-0 up in seven minutes, smashed Old Georgians 5-0 and Isca drew 1-1 at relegated Bristol University.
Ironically, former Fareham defender Simon Tremlett scored the equalising goal which kept the Exeter side out of trouble.
There was a crumb of comfort for Fareham, whose second team outscored Basingstoke 6-5 to ensure safety in Hampshire/Surrey Regional Division 1.
Greg Cox (2), George Davey, Luke Gould, Tom Seebold, and Zac Way scored for Fareham.
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