By Connor Steel
FAREHAM TOWN FC suffered heartbreak in their final match of the 2021-22 campaign as they lost a tight Wessex League Cup final on Saturday afternoon, losing two-one versus Shaftesbury on a beautiful spring afternoon at Portchester’s On-Site Group Stadium. But despite the defeat Pete Stiles can be proud of his team’s efforts as they took an early lead against their North Dorset based opponents, who took their chances and could have won by more as they came against an inspired display from the Town goalkeeper Henry Woodcock; fully deserving their silverware in front of a record crowd of nearly 850 supporters in attendance.
The Creeksiders started well and created the first chance after just three minutes as Charlie Cooper’s cross was headed wide by Gary Austin, whilst Ben Rowthorn drove his dangerous free kick over the crossbar moments later before being booked for a misjudged tackle on Shaftesbury’s Luke Burbidge. But Fareham weren’t rueing missed opportunities as they scored after 15 minutes as high pressuring led to a crucial mistake by defender Cam Beard in the penalty area and the loose ball fell kindly to find Casey Bartlett-Scott, who comfortable slid a low effort inside the bottom corner past the keeper Alex Cull from eight yards out.
Although Jack Breed went close with a curling shot that would have made it two-nil to Fareham on twenty minutes, Shaftesbury began to slowly work themselves into proceedings using a spell of incisive possession that saw their first chance; Greg Peel flashing his angled shot wide of the near post after a cut back from Ben Satterley reached his feet. And on twenty-seven minutes the Rockies got their reward as they equalised with their next attack; Ash Pope collecting a fine through-ball and beat two Town defenders for pace before accurately slotting home inside the bottom right corner past an onrushing Woodcock to level up the scores.
Proceedings passed the half hour mark without further opportunities for either side, although Shaftesbury were now shading overall possession and pushed over gear in the last five minutes before the interval with a series of chances. On 42 minutes Burbidge broke free and set up Pope only to be twice denied by brilliant saves from Woodcock, before the Fareham keeper performed another great stop as he tipped Brad Hill’s powerful header from a corner over the crossbar In stoppage time as another effort from Pope was blocked at source by Ash Tattersall’s leg with referee Tom Copping blowing for the half time break shortly afterwards.
Another yellow card came for Fareham as Gary Moody was booked just sixty seconds upon the restart, the Creeksiders having the next chance as Cooper’s shot was gathered by Cull via a slight deflection on 52 minutes. But despite this opening Shaftesbury were slowly cranking up pressure as Asha Phillips set up Burbridge who blazed over the crossbar from close range on 55’ and a low effort from Pope was denied by Woodcock’s left foot moments later; another blow for Fareham coming just before the hour mark as Ethan Jones picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Siph Mdladlose, causing some defensive reshuffling.
Joesph Wickham replaced Peel for Shaftesbury and Fareham took off Austin for Stuart Morgan as both sides brought on fresh legs, which seemed to help the Rockies with more pace up front; their next chance coming on 64 minutes as Burbidge fired harmlessly over when it was arguably easier to score following good work down the left. But after another shot was brilliantly saved by Woodcock, pressure finally told for Shaftesbury as they took the lead on 73 minutes as Burbridge found Wickham and the substitute squared to Phillips, who made no mistake in calmly firing home into the top right corner finally beating the inspired keeping display.
There was further chances to make it 3-1 to Shaftesbury as Burbridge hit the side netting and substitute Aiden Shepherd was denied twice through brilliant saves fromW Woodcock; who was undeniably the man of the match as he kept the score down on many occasions and gave his team hope of forcing the game into extra time with a very late equaliser. With this in mind Fareham created two final chances as Cooper fired over the bar and Breed went close in stoppage time as he couldn’t get his foot under the ball to shoot wide the last chance; Shaftesbury holding on for the two-one win and celebrating with their deserved silverware.
For the Rockies this trophy caps a successful season as they also finished third in the Wessex League, scoring a total of 126 goals from forty games and gaining eighty-five points including a double over Fareham. In contrast the Creeksiders have endured a mixed campaign full of goals as they finished twelfth, with attentions now focusing on the new 2022-23 season due to begin in August. And their preparations have already started as they have announced two away pre-season friendlies versus Royal Navy on July 5 and Petersfield Town eleven days later, with more due to be confirmed as the spring continues towards summer.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Shaftesbury players celebrate one of their goals as they win the Wessex League Cup on Saturday afternoon 2-1 against Fareham at the On-Site Group Stadium.