Trailing 2-1 with seven minutes to go, the Creeksiders broke the Brewers’ hearts with two late goals – including a penalty – to avenge similar late drama on Saturday afternoon but more importantly won a match absolutely dedicated to Sophie’s Journey, with the 10-year- old losing her battle against cancer last weekend.
With Cams decorated in yellow ribbons and the Fareham players wearing a change kit to match, Alton kicked off proceedings following a minute’s applause and immediately took the lead after just 58 seconds. A free kick down the left was drilled into the penalty area by Trevor Caborn which found Andy Coulson, who fired home with an excellent first time shot that flew into the corner leaving Fareham keeper Dan Kempson stranded.
Alton’s lead was nearly doubled on seven minutes when Ben May fired over after advancing forward beating two defenders, but the visitors were dealt a blow as Liam Flanigan pulled his calf and was quickly replaced by Ed Dryden on 12 minutes. .
Fareham did respond well after a slow opening period as they saw their first opportunity on 14 minutes. Charlie Cooper found space down the right and floated a cross to Ryan Mackney, whose header bounced off the bar before it was caught by grateful Alton shotstopper Keiron Greene. Two minutes later, great passing between Callum Benfield and Gary Austin resulted in the latter firing narrowly wide of the far post with a powerful angled effort before Ben Rowthorn had his shot blocked at source after being found in space on the right side.
However the Creeksiders’ pressure did yield a 20-minute equaliser as Cooper again found space down the right with his cross causing a goalmouth scramble. The ball eventually found Austin’s feet, with the striker turning sharply and firing high into the top corner to level, which is no more than the hosts deserved for their attacking efforts. Fareham nearly went ahead on 26 minutes when Luke Slade ran through on goal, but his shot and rebound effort were stopped by Greene between the Alton sticks with a good double save.
As the game hit the 30-minute mark the visitors began to dominate possession with Richie Hunter seeing his effort cleared off the line whilst Martin Brain was halted in a brilliant recovering tackle by Archie Wilcox on 37 minutes. Attention for the Brewers then turned to protecting their defence in the final minutes of the first half, which they completed by tucking in the full backs to deny space and limited Fareham to one chance in stoppage time. Mackney got onto the end of a similar free-kick to the Alton goal, but fired over the crossbar from seven yards out under pressure, before the referee blew for the interval.
Fareham came out for the second half slightly slower than usual and were nearly caught out as Coulson’s lobbed shot from 35 yards in the counter attack landed at the Redlands end on 55 minutes. Town keeper Kempton then denied Hunter, Dryden and Oli Page, but was undone on 62 minutes as the home No 1 collided with Caborn in the penalty area following a long ball forward catching out the defence. The referee gave a penalty that was taken by Alton’s birthday boy Dylan Riley to smash into the net, given the visitors a 2-1 lead. This was a deficit that seemed to knock Fareham slightly in a brief lull in attacking play, partly caused by substitutions for both sides.
The slow nature of proceedings were not helped by another injury to Alton players with Caborn picking up a knock and having to be replaced by Matt Graham, who fired wide after 75 minutes having being found in space as the attacks started again. Fareham also saw opportunities as Kai Sterne and Josh Benfield went close, before a moment of controversy as the hosts were awarded a penalty. A short corner was worked into Sterne, who was tripped as he turned on the edge of box; the referee originally giving a free kick before consulting with his linesman. He then overturned the decision and gave the Creeksiders a penalty, which was taken by Ethan Jones amongst furious Alton protests as the midfielder smashed it home to level on 82 minutes.
Both teams had shots blocked as the game looked to drift into a penalty shootout with the scores locked at two apiece, but there was one late twist in stoppage time as Fareham scored a late winner. Building from the back a long ball reached Curt Robbins who beat his marker down the left, firing a ball into the box in hope of finding Benfield at the back post. Although Ben May got there first for the visitors, he only succeeded in heading an own goal into the top right corner to spark heartbreak for Alton with no time to respond. The referee blew the final whistle upon the restart, ending valiant displays and huge entertainment for many fringe players, ultimately paying tribute to Sophie with a great game of competitive football.
Fareham Town have now progressed into the next round of the Hampshire Senior Cup, with draw details and a date to be arranged. Meanwhile attention now turns to a league double header at Cams Alders this week as the Creeksiders play United Services Portsmouth on Saturday afternoon, before they host strugglers Christchurch next Tuesday evening to round off a busy month. For Alton they have a home clash on Saturday afternoon as they host Pagham in the FA Vase Second Round Qualifying.