Fareham's Cams Alders Stadium is situated just to the South of the town of Fareham and is part of a larger sports complex which also incorporates Rugby (Fareham Heathens) and the Palmerston Indoor Bowling Club.There is plenty of parking on the service road alongside the ground or in the large car park just beyond it. Entrance is through a single turnstile which brings you into the ground between the halfway line and the car park end goal. As you enter, just to you left, set back from the pitch, is the main feature of the ground, a very interesting, looming stand that dominates the stadium. The stand houses 450 seats, a tenth of the total capacity. Under the main stand is the clubhouse and bar, which features a rather ornate patio area, more reminiscent of a hotel than a football ground. A great feature of the ground which must make it a ground-hopping favourite. Just to the side of the main stand there is a snack bar. The dugouts are directly opposite the main stand, straddling the halfway line. The ground has a good feel to it and clearly shows that the club once played at a higher level - they resigned from the Southern League in 1998.
On the face of it, this game did not have a lot resting on it apart from local pride. The teams are less than 10 miles apart, separated by Portsmouth Harbour and the town of Portsmouth. Fareham started the evening in 8th place with games in hand over the teams above them but, in all honesty, too far back to have any influence on the title race. Rovers sat 15th, below the halfway mark but so far clear of the drop zone that they had no relegation worries. The sides had previously met on the first midweek of the season, a topsy-turvy game in which the sides took turns taking the lead before a second-half melee led to two Rovers and one Town player seeing red. Fareham then went on to win the game with the last kick of the game. Last season saw Baffins earn a 1-1 draw at the Cams Alders, whilst winning 3-1 at home. The season before, Baffins first in the top flight, saw them win 5-2 in this fixture and, although Fareham won the away game 2-1, the Creeksiders had never beaten Baffins on their own patch.
We had a delayed kick off due to Baffins getting held up in traffic on their way to the ground. However, once we kicked off there were certainly no hold-ups. Right from the off Baffins launched an attack which ultimately proved to be fruitless. They were then immediately pegged back by a Fareham attack down the left which culminated in Josh Benfield turning inside his marker and hitting a low shot that forced Cameron into a smart stop. This was to be a pointer to the rest of the game.
On 8 minutes Tom Tierney's persistence, forcing his way through a couple of tackles into the Fareham box, paid dividends when the ball fell to Callum Dart who made no mistake with the finish. 0-1
The lead only last 6 minutes as The Creeksiders stormed back at their visitors. Josh Benfield broke through the defence and finished with some ease to level it up. 1-1. Fareham were now controlling the game and a further six minutes on they took the lead when Connor Messenbird hit a thunderous effort from the right-hand angle of the box into the far corner. Great strike. 2-1
If Fareham thought that taking the lead would give them the edge, they were wrong. Baffins were having none of it and immediately set about the home side with renewed vigour. It was great stuff to watch as a neutral, as both sides slugged it out from one end to the other.
Just past the half-hour mark a Baffins corner from their right was met at the far post with a looping header which Ethan Whyte, in the home goal, could only push onto the bar. The ball did not go out of play, maybe due to the wind, instead it just dropped into a group of players almost on the goal line. After what seemed like numerous scuffs and mis-hits it was hacked away, but not before the assistant's flag had been raised and several blue shirts had appealed for a goal. The assistant indicated that the ball had completely crossed the goal line. From where I was standing there is no way that I could verify this, or who got the last touch, but the assistant had a clear view and was 100% certain. The stadium announcer credited the goal to Callum Dart for his second of the night. 2-2
The goal gave even more energy to the away side and they were immediately back on the offensive. Two minutes after equalising they regained the lead. Some neat interplay through the home defence culminated in the ball being played to Tom Tierney who finished very well to make it 3-2. The breathless action continued with both sides still in the hunt for more goals. Neither could manage one before the break. However, Tierney did have a very late effort that curled past the keeper and struck the upright.
HT Fareham Town 2 Baffins Milton Rover 3. Absolutely fantastic action for any neutrals in the crowd. I doubt that either coach saw it that way, but great entertainment nevertheless.
Fareham were rocked but certainly not going to let going two behind bother them too much. The home side pushed Baffins back from the restart and we were then treated to 20 minutes of classic football, where one side was desperate to get back into the game, piling forward at every opportunity, whilst the other side sat back but then were more than happy to break quickly themselves. Fareham just couldn't seem to find a goal to pull them back into it, and Baffins counter-attacks were also posing a serious threat.
Then after 70 minutes we had what looked to be the final blow for Fareham when they conceded a penalty after Tyler Moret appeared to be tripped in the box. Who's going to take it? Goalkeeper Cameron Scott of course. Scott absolutely hammered the ball past Whyte to extend the lead. 2-5.
Game over? Don't be so silly. Fareham certainly weren't listening to the fat lady singing just yet. Almost immediately from kick-off they launched an attack that saw substitute Luke Slade go down under a challenge from two Baffins defenders. It looked soft to me and the Baffins defenders clearly agreed, but penalty it was. Tom Settle made no mistake from the spot and it was 3-5 with 18 minutes remaining.
To be fair to Fareham they really had the bit between their teeth at this point. Wave after wave of attacks came at the Baffins defence although, just as earlier in the half, Rovers still looked to be a threat on the break. Fascinating stuff for all watching.
With 8 minutes go the home side then put the game on a knife edge when Luke Slade latched onto a through ball, out-muscled his defender and slotted past Scott to make it 4-5. Was a dramatic comeback on the cards? The Fareham team certainly thought so. The pressure on the Rovers backline was now relentless.
With a minute left on the clock another home raid saw the ball eventually fall to the feet of Josh Benfield who fired it low past Scott to level it up. 5-5. What a game!
A great comeback from the home team but it was almost all undone in added time as Baffins went in search of all three points. First of all they saw a shot dragged wide, then with almost the last kick of the game they squandered a sitter, their striker (whose number I didn't catch) putting the ball wide of the mark with just the keeper to beat. From a neutral's perspective I was glad that no-one managed to snatch victory. After such great entertainment it seemed fitting that the spoils were shared.
FT Fareham Town 5 Baffins Milton Rovers 5. Tremendous entertainment and, as I tweeted at full-time, a great advert for the Wessex League. It was bitterly cold and, for me, a 200 mile round trip but it was absolutely worth it. Thanks to both teams for a great evening of football.
Fareham Town: Whyte, Settle, Breed, Tattersall, Wilcox, Moody(c), Messenbird, Robbins, Benfield, Austin, Stockford. Subs: Jones, Cooper, Slade, Woods, Davis
Baffins Milton Rovers: Scott(c), Taw, Blankson, Burns, Froggatt, Spranger, Tierney, Burgess, Mason, Dart, Dean. Subs: Grimshaw, Chandler, Emery, McLean
Ground Number: 232