Do or die for Havant as relegation finale looms

James Speke, right, in action against Fareham earlier this season
James Speke, right, in action against Fareham earlier this season
Matt Cox scored for Havant. Picture: Keith Woodland

Havant give leaders Exeter a big scare

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Merijn van Willigen admits it’s ‘do or die’ for Havant as they face a final fight to stay in conference west.

The men’s first team slipped to a battling 5-3 defeat at the University of Exeter at the weekend, which keeps them in relegation trouble.

Havant had hauled themselves level at 1-1, following a Jonathan Pickett equaliser on 14 minutes.

However, once Ian Haley restored Exeter’s lead on 35 minutes, there was to be no coming back for the visitors – despite a gutsy display.

Connor McLaughlan and James Speke did pull goals back during the second-half, but Exeter ran out comfortable victors in the end.

It means Havant head into Sunday’s final match needing a positive result against league leaders the University of Cardiff.

Even if they avoid relegation, they could be in line for a play-off scenario to remain in the division.

The relegation situation involves five clubs – two of which, Fareham and Isca, face each other.

Plenty of permutations then for van Willigen as Havant seek a first win since November to preserve their status.

He said: ‘Every scenario is still open.

‘We could beat Cardiff – stopping them winning the title – and still end up in the play-offs.

‘We could lose and still be in the play-offs, or we could draw and be relegated – literally everything’s open.

‘If all those games get played in the right spirit then we need to make sure we get a result, which means a draw or win, and if we don’t we have to keep a firm eye on goals conceded.

‘There are also five clubs involved, although clearly Guildford and Cheltenham are in a stronger position than we are.

‘I suppose if there is a gentlemanly draw between Fareham and Isca that will get us into real trouble, but you just never know.

‘There are so many permutations and so many possibilities and scenarios to consider.’

Last weekend, Exeter took the lead when Josh Godley netted in the 11th minute, but Pickett levelled from a penalty corner three minutes later.

Yet with half-time approaching, JJ Brown was deemed to not have withdrawn five yards, a decision which led to an Exeter penalty corner duly converted by Haley.

Havant went in 2-1 down at the break and five minutes following the restart Craig Duffy was deemed to have been hit on the foot inside the circle, with Andrew Ross netting the penalty corner.

Van Willigen’s side, though, pulled a goal back when McLaughlan deflected a penalty corner home from a shot from Indy Laly.

Then a defensive error gifted the ball to Exeter forward Nick Cooper to score and extend their lead to 4-2.

There was still time for Speke to score with 14 minutes remaining when Gurmukh Bhamra released Pol Soms and his early centre was finished clinically.

Exeter would have the final say, though, Ross once again getting on the scoresheet to seal a 5-3 victory and set it up for a final day relegation decider involving Havant.