BASINGSTOKE Town deservedly lifted the Hampshire Senior Cup at the end of a dramatic and thrilling final at Fratton Park last night.
Jason Bristow’s men were comfortably the better side on the night and seemed to be cruising to victory, leading 2-0 going into the final five minutes of normal time.
Then, disaster struck. Jay Gasson brought down Christian Nanetti in the area and the winger slotted home from the penalty spot to set up a nervous finale.
The atmosphere got even more tense when the fourth official indicated that there would be six minutes of added time, and while Basingstoke were able to survive five of them, they were unable to see the game out.
Havant sent goalkeeper Charlie Searle forward for one final corner and when it was not cleared properly, Nanetti’s ball back in was poked home by makeshift striker Ed Harris, despite the best efforts of Adam Green on the goal-line.
The scenes of delirium on the pitch were matched in the stands as the Havant fans, who were out-sung by their north Hampshire counterparts all night, erupted.
Town heads dropped, but a pre-extra-time team talk from Bristow seemed to pep them up, though they were fortunate to survive a sticky spell just after the halfway point in the additional 30 minutes.
A penalty shoot-out was looming large, but Town found the energy for one final push. Andrew Jenkinson saw his free-kick excellently saved by Havant goalkeeper Charlie Searle, but there was to be one final chance.
Fortunately, it fell to deadly marksman Liam Enver-Marum, who created the opportunity out of nothing with two minutes remaining. Picking the ball up on the right side of the area, he drove at the Havant defence before smashing a low drive past Searle at his near post from an acute angle.
Now, it was the Town fans’ turn to celebrate wildly, while Enver-Marum was mobbed by his team-mates. Even Bristow was unable to hide his emotions on the touchline.
This time, there was no comeback – and Basingstoke saw the game out to lift the county cup for a sixth time.
Overall, the game was an excellent advert for non-league football, and only the most ardent Havant fan would deny that Town were fully deserving of their victory.
They were the better side for the first 85 minutes, passing the ball brilliantly, creating chances and defending stoutly.
Nathan Smart had the first opportunity of the match, firing straight at Searle, and while Scott Jones went close for Havant after beating Town goalkeeper Joe McDonnell to a loose ball, Basingstoke grabbed a deserved lead on 18 minutes.
Louie Soares and Enver-Marum linked up down the left. The striker lifted the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper and while he was denied by Daniel Blanchett on the line, Manny Williams was on hand to force the ball home from close range.
The lead should have been extended eight minutes later. Williams played Nicholas Bignall through but the striker fluffed his lines, firing wide with just Searle to beat.
Simon Dunn also had a couple of decent efforts from long range as the half came to a close with Town comfortably on top.
Havant improved at the start of the second half, but it was Town who looked more likely to score. Bignall’s touch let him down when Smart found him in the area, while Williams fired a good opportunity wide and Enver-Marum was just unable to get on the end of Dunn’s low centre.
Havant were reduced to shots from medium to long range, failing to trouble McDonnell, and the game seemed to be over when Enver-Marum doubled the lead on 70 minutes. Williams’ clever pass found the striker in behind and his finish was clinical, slotting under the onrushing goalkeeper to make it 2-0.
Havant threw caution to the wind, but Town almost got a third when Searle struggled to deal with Soares’ shot from distance.
The game seemed to be up, but Nanetti’s penalty gave Havant some much-needed momentum and it took a fantastic save from McDonnell to stop Ryan Woodford levelling the scores deep in stoppage-time, with the 'keeper then smothering Jake Newton's follow-up effort.
To their credit, Havant kept going, getting the equaliser with virtually the final kick of the game to set up extra-time.
The first half of the additional period was cagey, but Havant enjoyed a strong spell just after the change of ends. Alek Przespolewski was denied by the legs of McDonnell after being played in, Harris’ acrobatic effort went wide and Nanetti missed a great chance, curling wide when left unmarked in the area.
It was not to be for the south Hampshire side though and while Jenkinson was denied by Searle, Enver-Marum’s second goal of an incredible final secured the Hampshire Senior Cup for Basingstoke.
Basingstoke Town: McDonnell, Smart, Jenkinson, Dunn (sub Green 63min), Gasson, Rice, Daly, Soares, Enver-Marum (sub Matthews 120min), Bignall, Williams (sub Ibe 85min). Subs (not used): Adams, Maylen.
Havant and Waterlooville: Searle, Stugnell, Blanchett (sub Cummings 32min), Monteiro (sub Przespolewski 45min), Woodford, Harris, Ciardini, Atangana, Jones (sub Newton 75min), Nanetti, Ryan. Subs (not used): Bevan, Wedlake.