Three goals in the opening 16 minutes set Fareham up for a 4-1 win at Cheltenham – a real confidence booster ahead of Sunday’s clash with England Hockey Western Conference leaders Exeter University at Henry Cort, 1.30pm.
Chris Davey, Jamie Rawlings and Niall Stott all scored in that key opening period, while several other chances went begging as Fareham threatened to bury their Gloucestershire hosts.
Luke Cornish added a fourth in the second half before Cheltenham grabbed a late consolation goal.
“The performance was really pleasing,” reflected Fareham head coach Ben Barnes.
“To start well was so important and we did the right things well to give ourselves a grip on the game at half time.
“Getting outcomes in the final third has been an area we have working hard on and to see the chances converted was great to see.”
Fareham were ahead through Chris Davey inside five minutes at Cheltenham College and then scored twice in quick succession ten minutes later to take a firm grip.
A long aerial pass from the back by Jamie Rawlings which picked out teenager George Davey created the second goal.
The Fareham youngster, fresh from a second team hat-trick against Chichester the previous day, was taken out by the Cheltenham goalkeeper and Rawlings made it 2-0 from the resulting stroke.
A minute later Niall Stott drilled a drag flick penalty corner through the goalkeeper’s legs for Fareham’s third.
“Our circle entry upgrades were very good and we looked like getting corners or shots away every time we entered the 23,” enthused Barnes.
Cheltenham scrambled away two other penalty corners off the line, while Martin Gough saw a goal-bound reverse stick shot beaten away as Fareham laid siege.
“It was not without us having to defend,” conceded Barnes.
“Cheltenham were dangerous on counter attack and won a number of corners before half time which George Harris was a match for.
“He pulled of two really top saves to keep our three-goal advantage.”
Cheltenham pressed higher after the break in a vain attempt to get back in the game, but it was only a matter of time before Fareham added a fourth goal from Cornish 13 minutes from the end after good work from Gough and Scott Rawlings in the circle.
Will Jones, George Davey and Scott Rawlings all came close for Fareham before Mohamed Samak got a consolation goal for the hosts six minutes from time.
Now all Fareham emphasis will be on Sunday’s showdown with Exeter University, the side whom Barnes rates as the best his side they have played this season – the west country students snatching a late goal to beat Fareham 5-4 in late October.
“The pressure is all on them. It’s so close at the top and with Birmingham and Cardiff Met breathing down their necks, Exeter can’t afford to slip,” Barnes said.
“From our own perspective, we’re now in touching distance of the three teams immediately above us and we really want to push on.”
* Fareham seconds thrashed Chichester II 8-0 in Hampshire/Surrey Regional Division 1, with George Davey’s hat-trick taking his season’s tally to 18 goals.
Oli Bradbury, Luke Gould, Christian McKenna, Kieran Paige, and Scott Rawlings were also on target as fourth placed Fareham ran amok against the league’s bottom side.
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