Havant establish two-point lead at the top

Jamie Whitehouse. 'Picture: Mick Young
Jamie Whitehouse. 'Picture: Mick Young
Matt Cox scored for Havant. Picture: Keith Woodland

Havant give leaders Exeter a big scare

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Havant captain Raj Laly believes the side will have to get used to playing defensive-minded opponents following their 3-0 win over Old Cranleighans.

It wasn’t a vintage performance but two goals from James Speke and one from Sandeep Singh ensured Havant continued their 100-per-cent record in South League premier division one.

Significantly, rivals Sevenoaks only drew with Purley Walcountians so Havant now have a two-point cushion at the top.

However, Laly feels being league leaders comes with its own challenges.

‘Sides will recognise that we are the team to beat in the league,’ said Laly.

‘We have the best goal difference and we’re the only ones with a 100-per-cent record.

‘So teams will come with a view to getting a draw with us and counter-attacking.’

And that is exactly what Old Cranleighans did on Saturday.

Laly said: ‘They came with a plan and they parked two buses on the pitch. They didn’t want to attack, especially in the first half.’

Havant set their stall out very early and were on the front foot almost immediately.

Within the opening three minutes, both Singh and Speke forced saves from the Old Cranleighans keeper.

That pressure eventually told as Havant took the lead a minute later.

Good attacking play down the right saw Mike Deller-Merricks and Sam Broadhurst combine well, with the final ball fired into the roof of the goal by Speke.

Havant then seemed to take their foot off the accelerator but still created enough chances to extend their lead.

Singh came closest when he rattled the bar from another penalty corner, but it remained 1-0 at the break.

Shortly before the hour, Havant had two golden opportunities to double their lead.

Firstly Craig Duffy set up Ollie Nail on the far post, but he could not get a touch on the ball. Then Deller-Merricks drew the keeper in the circle and slipped the ball to Tom Murtagh, but the bouncing ball was not stopped in front of an empty net.

It was Singh who settled the nerves in the 62nd minute with a trade mark drag flick from Havant’s third penalty corner.

Being two goals down, Old Cranleighans pushed numbers up field, leaving holes at the back and Havant exploited one of these opportunities.

A free hit outside the circle with minutes left on the clock was well worked and gave Speke a chance to deflect the ball in for his second of the game and Havant’s third.

Old Cranleighans had a late chance, flashing the ball across the goal, but generally created very little all game , as Havant maintained their charge for promotion and kept their second clean sheet in a row.

Laly added: ‘They knew how to frustrate us.

‘They had a lot of ex National League players and they knew how to play a defensive game.

‘It was up to us to break them down.

‘Our goalkeeper Ben Cowling didn’t have many saves and we held firm at the back.’

Laly was also keen to point out that Havant are not just relying on Singh for goals, especially with Speke showing his quality.

The skipper said: ‘Everyone is chipping in with goals.

‘James Speke is an up-and-coming forward who has natural goalscoring ability and that’s why he scored two for us.’