Ben Barnes saluted the courage of his Fareham troops after they saved their skins with a last-day victory, thanks to Shaun Baker’s late winner.
Knowing they needed to win to have any chance of avoiding the drop from National men’s conference west, Fareham claimed a battling 3-2 win over relegation-rivals ISCA, who themselves needed a result to secure safety.
But with the game poised at 2-2 with five minutes to go, it was Baker’s solo effort that stole the points to haul his team away from the drop zone.
With the vital win secured, it meant Fareham were safe and local rivals Havant were relegated instead, after they went down to a 1-0 home loss to newly-crowned champions Cardiff & Met.
A relieved Barnes said: ‘The team did everything I asked for.
‘We played with bravery, composure, quality in the circle and we took our chances.
‘ISCA seemed to be happy to play for a draw, which helped us.
‘But, crucially, we scored our third shortly after their equaliser.’
Fareham got away to the perfect start when Alex Boxall fired home inside the first five minutes to put Fareham ahead.
And they might have extended the lead and settled their nerves even further but James Seager fired narrowly over the crossbar.
They were made to count the cost when ISCA hit back as Sam Lynch levelled the scores before the interval.
But Seager then shrugged off his earlier chance and restored Fareham’s advantage, beating two defenders on his way to slotting past the ISCA keeper.
The visitors appeared to be in command and on their way to staying in the division.
But when Tom Whitworth bagged ISCA’s second equaliser with only eight minutes to go as he profited from a goalmouth scramble, the Henry Cort side were back in the drop zone
With time running out, Baker stepped up for Fareham in style as he robbed an opposition defender on the halfway line and sprinted for the D.
While his shot was not the cleanest he has ever hit, it was perhaps one of the most significant as it was enough to beat the goalkeeper.
And it was enough to fire Fareham to safety in dramatic style, as they played out the remaining few minutes before the celebrations started.
There was more joy for the club as the ladies’ first team sealed the Hampshire League title with a 6-0 destruction of Romsey.
Elsewhere, the seconds went down to Havant 8-1, while the thirds grabbed a 4-1 win over Havant III.
A Nic Cope double and further goals from Kevin Smith and David Roche did the damage.