Havant steal a late draw

Havant goalscorer Martin Gough Picture; Mick Young
Havant goalscorer Martin Gough Picture; Mick Young
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Havant produced a remarkable late fightback, with two goals in the last two minutes, as they rescued a 2-2 draw at Cheltenham in the Men’s Conference West.

Merijn van Willigen’s side looked destined for defeat in the final game before the winter break as they trailed 2-0 to strikes from Alex Hay and Sam Carter.

But staring at a bleak two-month shutdown until the outdoor league resumes in February, Martin Gough raised hopes, before Mike Dellor-Merricks grabbed a last-gasp equaliser to claim a point.

‘At 2-0 down, our backs were really against the wall,’ said van Willigen.

‘But, in fairness, the team responded well

‘We will use the mid-season break to evaluate our efforts.

‘I’ve been encouraged by some very good performances against strong sides.

‘But we know that we must be more ruthless in terms of putting sides away which are below us in the table.’

After an even encounter in the opening 12 minutes, a breakdown of a Cheltenham attack changed the nature of the game.

Keen to exploit the fact that Cheltenham were temporarily out of their defensive positions, James Lester attempted to reach the forwards, only to see his pass intercepted by Hay, who drove the ball into the circle and hit it past the unsighted Ben Cowling in the Havant goal.

Connor McLaughlin might have done better with a reverse-stick attempt after good work from Indy Laly and Gough gave Havant the chance to drag themselves level.

Tood Freedman then went close to notching a leveller – first seeing a rebound from a short corner stopped on the line, before being denied by the goalkeeper who toe-poked a strong deflection around the post.

Cheltenham continued to threaten on the break and they doubled their lead on 46 minutes to put them in command.

The home side’s patience and defensive endeavour was rewarded when Havant again turned the ball over cheaply and then failed to deal with the break effectively.

And three passes later, the ball was in the back of the Havant net as Carter picked his spot and dispatched beyond Cowling’s outstretched leg.

The pressure started to tell on the Cheltenham defence when they were hit with a yellow card midway through the half.

That allowed Havant to respond by bringing a defender off and an extra attacker on.

Pol Soms Irazola wasted a great chance to pull one back, opting instead to go for goal from an acute angle, rather than tee up two waiting team-mates.

But when Gough pounced on a rebound to net his third goal of the campaign after a penalty corner, it set up a frantic finish.

And Havant had their draw as Jon Pickett’s strike was deflected home by Dellor-Merrics in spectacular style with almost the last action of the game to complete a gutsy recovery and somehow avoid defeat.