Jamie Rawlings’ hit Fareham’s 4-3 winner three minutes from the end of an exhilarating England Hockey West Conference derby with Havant, who almost rescued a point after wiping out a two-goal deficit with a late brace of their own.
Fareham appeared comfortable winners when they led 3-1 just short of the hour-mark, but the game exploded into life with Havant equalising, only to be sent spinning to defeat by a late penalty corner winner.
The first Fareham-Havant derby for several seasons was an absorbing affair from start to finish, the hosts controlling the early stages and taking a sixth minutes lead courtesy of a goal superbly crafted by the classy Luke Cornish.
Picking up a free hit wide on the right, Cornish cleverly weaved his way on the byeline, drop shouldering his way past several challenges before easing the ball into the path of Danny Rawlings.
Counter-attacking at pace, Fareham forced two short corners, bringing one fine save from Chris Bristow before Havant began to get a foot-hold in the game – debutant Pakistan Olympian Toseeq Arshad testing George Harris.
The period leading up to half-time, whilst remaining goal-less, was tense for Fareham as Havant pumped up the pressure, forcing a series of unconverted penalty corners.
In boxing parlance, Fareham probably took the first half on points and when they doubled their lead nine minutes into the second period, Havant had the proverbial mountain to climb.
Rawlings drilled a fierce cross-drive in from the right – a deflection from Alex Boxall sending the ball screaming past Bristow.
A minute later it could – and should – have been curtains for Havant – James Seager forcing Bristow to turn the ball over the bar, when a ground shot appeared the better goal-scoring option.
Fareham produced arguably their best spell of the game, with Bristow bringing off a series of saves from Martin Gough, Niall Stott and Scotsman Christian McKenna, who caught the eye on his home debut.
But failure to convert any of the four penalty corners they forced cost Fareham dear as, 20 minutes into the second period, Michael Deller-Merricks poked Havant back into the contest during a frantic goalmouth scramble.
Three minutes later Fareham’s two-goal cushion was restored.
Havant’s Indy Laly was yellow carded for a robust tackle and Jamie Rawlings converted the resulting penalty corner with a low shot to Bristow’s right-hand post.
The crowd expected Fareham to see out the final quarter; instead, the game exploded with a flurry of goals.
A reckless stick challenge by Jon Price on Maciej Janeszewski led to the Polish striker reducing the deficit from a penalty stroke.
Fareham were suddenly hanging on - Harris making a fine save before Tomek Bruml made it 3-3 with just three minutes remaining.
With the game wide open, Fareham finally put the game to bed with Rawlings drilling their seventh short corer of the game low to Bristow’s right.
It was a fitting finale to a terrific derby. A credit to the game locally.
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