Fareham were left to rue a spate of missed first half chances and had to be content with a 1-1 draw from the visit of high riding National League Western Conference rivals Exeter University to Henry Cort.
Desperate for every point in their quest to avoid an end-of-season relegation play-off scenario – or even automatic demotion if they fail to finish above Bristol University – Fareham ought to have put the game to bed in the opening 15 minutes.
They began with real purpose, but Chris Davey, Jamie Rawlings and James Seager all missed the target before Exeter’s Harry Mellows pulled off two wonder saves to keep the university goal intact.
Eventually Fareham’s pressure paid off – Rawlings converting a penalty corner, a distinct improvement on the previous week against Isca where their set-piece routines had been so poor, writes Mike Vimpany.
“We could have been 4-0 up at half-time and out of sight,” sighed head coach Ben Barnes, who stepped off the bench to add some experience to the Fareham cause late in the game, making one amazing stick save from under his own crossbar
Exeter, slow to get going, gradually stepped up a gear and 11 minutes into the second half equalised through James Fergusson after the otherwise impressive Tom Larcombe had lost possession on the left.
Despite finding themselves under increasing pressure, Fareham created several more chances – though in the end they were clinging on as third-placed Exeter launched a prolonged assault, goalkeeper George Harris denying them with one stunning fingertip save late on.
“Exeter deserved their equaliser for how they fought back in the second half, but I was encouraged by our performance,” Barnes continued.
Bristol University, whose visit to Henry Cort on March 18 will surely decide the automatic relegation position, nailed 6-0 by Team Bath Buccaneers and lie two points behind Fareham, who go to title favourites Cardiff & Met this weekend.
Worryingly for Fareham, Isca nailed Chichester 4-1 and have a three-point lead over Fareham.
* Fareham juniors thumped Winchester 5-1 to finish top of the West Under-14 Boys Championships and qualify for the next regional phase of the national competition.
Alex Ellison, Jay Green, Fergus Jackson, Phil Larcombe and Adam Shergold scored for Fareham.
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