IN THE first of two matches against the same opposition in three days, Fareham Town’s unbeaten run lasting four games came to an abrupt ending as Alton scored a late winner to snatch all three points from this Wessex League encounter.
The decisive goal came on 89 minutes at Cams Alders, deflating a brilliant crowd of 312 for this ‘local derby’ played in simply glorious and surprising warm conditions across the South Coast.
The Creeksiders were forced to make an extremely late change to the line-up as Garry Moody pulled up doing warm-up preparations and was replaced by Ash Tattersall, with the sides coming out of the tunnel to an immaculate pitch surface. Before kick-off there was a touching moment as a minute’s applause was held in tribute to the 10-year old behind Sophie’s Journey, who had sadly lost her cancer battle earlier on Saturday morning.
Fareham started proceedings attacking the Redlands end as the hosts made a bright start, quickly looking to assert their dominance after great recent form. Their first chance came after five minutes as a deflected corner was blocked off the line, before the rebound by Simon Woods was brilliantly saved by Alton goalkeeper Keiron Greene at his near post and the ball was cleared away. Moments later a ball released Charlie Cooper down the right, but his angled shot hit the side netting as the game began to drift into a midfield battle that neither side wanted to lose.
Not that this limited the creation of chances for both sides as Woods went close, whilst Steve Black’s pass set up Andy Coulson for the Brewers as the shot failed to test Dan Kempson returning between the Fareham sticks. After absorbing home pressures, the visitors created arguably created the best chance on 24 minutes as counter-attacking play saw Rob Carr round Kempson and firing towards goal with a sliding effort. But Fareham were thanking their lucky stars as Tattersall cleared for a corner, only to fall behind from this set piece. The delivery was perfect and found Ed Dryden at the far post, with the Alton full-back rising highest to nod into the corner.
Stunned at falling behind against the run of play; Fareham kept carving out good attacking moves that saw multiple shots drift wide with Cooper, Woods and Ben Rowthorn all going close. Ross Kidson further headed over a lovely corner down the right side by Rowthorn, but in fairness Alton’s defence stood firm with the backing of their hardworking midfield and this ultimately saw them enter the interval one-nil ahead from an even first half.
Pete Stiles made a half-time substitution as Ryan Mackney replaced Rowthorn in the midfield, whilst Tattersall was replaced following a tackle that left the defender hobbling after 53 minutes. But despite these changes play remained the same as both sides worked hard, with Fareham seeing opportunities from Dan Bennett and Archie Wilcox who headed over a corner from close range as the game hit the hour mark.
Another change for Fareham was made as Garry Austin replaced Kai Sterne as the hosts sought a route back into the game. This seemed to work with chances for Callum Benfield who fired over and Woods screwing wide when well placed, before Alton keeper Greene was forced into another good save by Curt Robbins on 69 minutes. It wasn’t all one way traffic though as Kempton had to be smart to deny an effort from Liam Knight and gathered the rebound by Matt Benham comfortably, before the visitors made a series of their own substitutions to stem the tide.
Fareham’s pressure finally got the desired outcome on 77 minutes as they equalised with a poacher’s finish. A long freekick bounced over the top of the entire Alton defence, falling kindly to Robbins who was lurking at the back post to slot home at the far post. This sparked relived celebrations and Fareham looked to push for a winner; their best chance coming when Austin’s shot from range cannoned off the far post and bobbled into Greene’s grateful hands in the six yard box.
The Creeksiders were also denied a penalty as Woods broke clear on goal trying to collect a loose air-bound pass forward, the ball hitting the defender’s hand on the line of the penalty area. Referee Jade Wardle gave a free-kick and booked the Alton player, with fans divided on this decision depending on their view of the incident in the 86th minute of play.
In the final minute before stoppage time, Fareham won a corner that was cleared away from danger by an Alton defender with the long pass not looking too menacing for the home backline. But they were rueing this confidence as the ball hit the back of the away winger, falling to the advancing Richie Hunter down the right. With space left behind as the home players retreated from the corner, the midfielder took advantage as he fired into the bottom corner with a curled stunner, sparking loud celebrations from the away benches and small section of supporters in the stands. Fareham couldn’t get their second equaliser of the afternoon as Alton held on for their efforts, teaching the Creeksiders a lesson in finishing and that scoring goals is the most important statistic of them all.
Fareham will hope to avenge this late defeat on Tuesday night against the same opponents in the Hampshire Senior Cup, before hosting US Portsmouth next Saturday afternoon (3pm kick-off). The Creeksiders’ third game in seven days will see them play Christchurch on September 28 to round off a busy month that had seen Town win three games before this weekend’s loss. October will see the Creeksiders start with a trip to AFC Stoneham as their league season continues, before playing away in Denmead as part of the Portsmouth Divisional Competition.
**The match versus Alton on Tuesday night has become a game of celebration in memory of Sophie’s Journey. Fans are asked to join the players in wearing yellow and ribbons / decorations will be placed across Cams. There may be a bucket for donations and a minutes applause before kick-off, although this is yet to be confirmed** – Added 20/09.