Fareham sub Josh Benfield scores twice in a minute late on to deny Baffins Milton Rovers top spot in Wessex League following nine-goal thriller

Baffins Milton Rovers suffered late agony in their bid to take over top spot in an increasingly thrilling Wessex League Premier Division title race tonight.

By Simon Carter
Wednesday, 26th January 2022, 10:34 pm
Josh Benfield scored twice in a minute late on to give Fareham Town a stunning 5-4 victory at Baffins and stop Rovers going top of the Wessex League.

Picture: Keith Woodland
Josh Benfield scored twice in a minute late on to give Fareham Town a stunning 5-4 victory at Baffins and stop Rovers going top of the Wessex League. Picture: Keith Woodland

Fareham sub Josh Benfield scored twice in a minute to give his side an extraordinary 5-4 victory in a pulsating encounter at The PMC Stadium.

Even by the high standards the Reds have set this season in terms of providing great entertainment, this was something special.

Leading 2-1 at half-time, Fareham conceded twice in a minute shortly after the hour mark. Then, after levelling on 77 minutes, they promptly fell behind again 60 seconds later.

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A win would have taken Baffins top of the table but Benfield conjured up a double strike in the 84th and 85th minutes to complete one of the most astonishing games of the local non-league season.

Why, it was almost as exciting as the 5-5 draw the two teams played out at Cams Alders in what proved to be the final game of the pandemic-scarred 2019/20 season!

The previous evening, Hamworthy had failed to take the chance to move into top spot - only drawing 0-0 at Alton. Now Baffins have wasted a chance, allowing Horndean to remain in pole position - though the Hammers and Rovers have games in hand with just two points separating the top three.

As for Fareham, their 26 Wessex games in 2021/22 have now provided a stunning 147 goals - only leaders Horndean (87) have scored more than their 83.

The scene was set right from the outset with two goals in the opening 10 minutes.

Fareham went ahead in the fifth minute when Charlie Cooper’s shot deflected into the bottom corner off unlucky left-back Rhys Lloyd.

Baffins were level when Oscar Johnston’s deep cross found George Britton and he teed up Craig McAllister for his fourth goal in five Rovers outings.

Reds keeper Henry Woodcock was forced to rush out and block from McAllister, while at the other end Gary Austin and Stuart Morgan saw efforts blocked by defenders in the same attack.

Referee Harry Redman brandished three yellows on the half-hour mark - one to Rovers defender Lee Molyneaux for bringing down Morgan and the others to Morgan and Baffins left-back Charlie Williamson for a post-foul skirmish.

Fareham certainly had the bit between their teeth in the first half and deservedly retook the lead on 35 minutes. Morgan’s shot was saved by Konrad Syzmaniak but the loose ball ran free to Cooper on the right and his low cross was bundled in by Morgan.

Baffins boss Shaun Wilkinson made a half-time change by bringing on 18-goal top scorer Rudi Blankson in place of McAllister.

He was then forced to make a second change within 10 minutes of the restart when Williamson w as hurt in a 50/50 challenge, with Stan Bridgman coming on at left-back.

After a quiet start to the second period, with neither side creating much, the game burst back into life on 63 minutes.

Fareham wasted possession from their own free-kick, and Blankson ran onto a lofted through ball from James Cowan to fire Baffins back level again.

Within a minute, the Fareham defence had again parted - this time Jason Parish running through to score. Though Woodcock got a hand to the shot, he couldn’t prevent it from rolling into the net.

Pre-match Wilkinson – referring Fareham’s propensity to both score and concede goals at a furious rate – had wondered if ‘Barcelona or the Nags Head’ would emerge from the visitors’ dressing room. Going forward, the Reds were more of the former but, for those two quickfire Baffins goals, it was Sunday League defending.

Blankson should have made it 4-2 but, given a free header from a free-kick, he nodded his effort over the bar from close range.

Fareham levelled on 77 minutes when left-back Ethan Jones provided a great cross which Morgan slid in to convert from six yards out.

Remarkably, Baffins went straight up the other end and retook the lead, Blankson netting his 20th goal of the campaign.

Even more remarkably, that wasn’t the end of the goal rush. One Baffins sub had scored twice; now it was a Fareham sub’s turn to take centre stage with a double.

Bridgman’s wayward pass presented Benfield with the opportunity to gain possession just outside the Baffins box. Cutting inside, the striker’s low shot appeared to lack power but it deceived Syzmaniak and crept in at his near post.

Within a minute, Benfield had scored again – repeating his brace from the 5-5 draw in March 2020 - to send the noisy contingent of visiting fans behind the goal into raptures.

It was the second time this season Fareham had scored five times at a title-chasing side - back in late November they had trounced leaders Horndean 5-1 at Five Heads Park.

In between, they also drew 3-3 with Hamworthy - the only side to score more than two goals against the Hammers since the start of last season.

If it’s entertainment you want, Pete Stiles’ side are certainly the side to go and watch. Most Wessex League pundits knew that already. And if you weren’t aware prior to this game, you certainly are now …

Baffins: Syzmaniak, Williamson, Lloyd, Sanders, Molyneaux, Sergeant, Cowan, Britton, Johnston, McAllister, Parish. Subs used: Blankson, Bridgeman, Scutt.

Fareham: Woodcock, Wilcox, Jones, Moody, Kidson, Mackney, Robbins, Cooper, Breed, Austin, Morgan. Subs used: Benfield, Bennett, Settle.