Two goals in three early second half minutes set Winchester up for an action packed 5-3 win over the South League Premier Division’s bottom club Henley, who twice cancelled out leads by the city club.
Ben Hibberd and Micah Smithard scored twice each as Winchester halted a sequence of back-to-back defeats.
“It was a satisfying win,” reflected Winchester coach George Harris. “Even at this stage of the season we knew was a must win game.
“I challenged the team to show how much they want a top four place and we showed much better fluency from the outset.”
The action fizzed from the start and barely relented until the final whistle as Winchester took an early lead when Ben Hibberd was most alert as the ball pin-balled around the Henley defensive area.
But the more mature Henley stuck back quickly as Chris Green powered home a reverse strike after a rapid counter attack.
Winchester took a 2-1 lead out of the first period when Micah Smithard pounced at the breakdown of a penalty corner.
The stakes were upped quickly after the break when some poor defensive decisions let in Alex Land to equalise.
The following ten minutes were all Winchester's.
Firstly, the increasingly impressive Harry Trussler sent a long aerial down the left wing for Ben Hibberd, who beat the floored keeper and finished from a narrow angle with his reverse.
Two minutes later, they struck on a classic counter attack from a Henley penalty corner, Jack Culmer releasing skipper Kieran Molloy through the centre.
Hibberd then pulled the ball across the face of the goal for the sliding Smithard to make it 4-2.
Malloy scored the fifth Winchester goal, Craig Jeffery showing some clever control under pressure in the opposition "D" from a bouncing ball and lined up a narrow angle strike which Malloy tapped home to make sure of the conversion.
At 5-2 things looked comfortable, but Henley kept coming and tension mounted when they struck their third through Jonny Taylor with still ten minutes remaining.
Harris added: “Unfortunately, some lax defending allowed Henley back in when we threatened to get on top and run away with the game.
“The crucial fourth goal put us 4-2 up and should have seen us put them to the sword, but some uncharacteristic ill discipline saw us down to ten men for the last phase and a 5-3 scoreline could have caused us a problem, but we battled through a tough period.
“It just goes to prove that there are no givens in the South Premier !”
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