New season, new defensive resilience – Josh Benfield grabs winner as Fareham Town claim opening day Wessex League victory

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Josh Benfield struck the only goal as Fareham Town lifted the curtain on a new Wessex League campaign with victory over AFC Stoneham.

Last season’s 16-goal top scorer was left unmarked in the area to head home in front of a 300-plus crowd at Cams Alders last night.

As well as the three points, Reds boss Pete Stiles was delighted with a clean sheet - something of a rarity in 2021/22.

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Fareham only kept six clean sheets in 40 league matches last term, and none of them were against a team who finished in the top 10.

Josh Benfield scored Fareham's winner against AFC Stoneham. Picture: Keith WoodlandJosh Benfield scored Fareham's winner against AFC Stoneham. Picture: Keith Woodland
Josh Benfield scored Fareham's winner against AFC Stoneham. Picture: Keith Woodland

They conceded 98 goals - 11 of which came in just two matches against Stoneham, the Purples winning 6-1 at home and 5-0 away.

Luke Deacon - one of three players handed a competitive Fareham debut - kept a clean sheet after escaping suspension for being sent off in last weekend’s friendly with Gosport.

Both Deacon and captain Garry Moody - also dismissed against Borough - will serve their suspensions in friendly matches and not competitive action.

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Moody partnered new signing Saul Thorpe in central defence last night, with teenage winger Connor Underhill the third new face.

‘Luke only had one save to make, and that was flagged offside,’ said Stiles.

‘They put us under pressure late on, last season we might have buckled.

‘It wasn’t just the defenders, we defended as a team.

‘Hopefully we’re going to be a bit more like that this season. It was the one area that let us down last year. No-one could accuse us of not playing entertaining football.

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‘It’s something we needed to sort out. If you don’t concede, you don’t lose. I don’t mind if it was 1-0 or 3-0, we’re up and running.

‘It was a good performance all round. We still need to work on our fitness levels but I was really, really pleased.’

Fareham also struck the woodwork twice. Callum Benfield smacked a volley from a Charlie Cooper cross against the post after a lovely Fareham move - ‘that would have been a cracking goal’ stated Stiles - while Cooper hit the post in the second half.

Young Underhill - who played for Hampshire Premier League champions Colden Common last term - was voted man of the match on Fareham’s social media.

Stiles said: ‘There were a lot of good performances. Casey Bartlett-Scott was tremendous at left-back, Josh Benfield and Callum Benfield were different class, and Garry Moody was solid.’

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