Havant chief looks to positives of daunting finale

Havant head coach Merijn van Willigen. Picture: Mick Young (14325-11)
Havant head coach Merijn van Willigen. Picture: Mick Young (14325-11)
fareham's James Evans, right. Picture: Habibur Rahman

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Havant could not face a more difficult final hurdle in their race for National League conference west survival.

But Merijn van Willigen has backed his team to spring a surprise against champions-elect Cardiff Met at Barncroft Way on Sunday (2pm).

And with a positive result, they will boost their own slim chances of beating the drop.

Havant currently sit in the play-off position, one place in front of Fareham in the sole automatic relegation spot.

Both south coast sides are level on points with Isca, who occupy the first safety spot.

With Guildford and Cheltenham also nervously looking over their shoulders, the final round of fixtures could not be more crucial.

But while Fareham travel to Isca and the other strugglers perpare for easier tests than the one facing Havant, van Willigen is in no mood to throw in the towel.

And the added motivation of spoiling Cardiff Met’s title party at Barncroft Way could be just the extra incentive his side need to pull off a shock success.

The head coach said: ‘I don’t think it is the end of the road (playing Cardiff in the last game). I can see us doing well against them.

‘I don’t have to remind the players that last year we were 3-0 up against them with five minutes to go.

‘I certainly feel we could draw – that is certainly in the realms of possibility.

‘Equally we could lose and still be in the play-offs.

‘An added incentive is that Cardiff – with a draw or a win – will be crowned champions on our pitch.

‘I assume there will be a delegation from England Hockey there with a trophy.

‘It is an added pressure for them on the same day we don’t want to be relegated.’

Van Willigen has admitted the way the table looks presents him with a tactical dilemma.

If Fareham are defeated at Isca, Havant must avoid a heavy loss to ensure they remain above the Henry Cort side on goal difference.

A draw may also be enough to ensure van Willigen’s side are not automatically relegated, while a victory could still mean the lottery of the play-offs – against the corresponding sides in the east and north conferences.

With so many permutations, it’s important the Havant chief gets his game plan spot on.

He said: ‘We will have both eyes on goal difference but first of all we will try to win.

‘Do we put Cardiff under pressure, which they might find more difficult?

‘If you do that you run the risk of being caught on the break – which is really what they are set up to do.

‘So then do you play more conservatively and “park the bus” – to use (Jose) Mourinho language?

‘It is difficult and we could do both depending on how the game goes.’

Havant’s second team will net South League Hampshire/Surrey regional division one glory with victory over rivals Fareham at Barncroft Way tomorrow (11.30am).

And the club’s ladies’ first team will sign off their South Clubs’ Women’s League division one campaign with the visit of Woking (1.30pm).