Alton’s first team fell to a narrow 28-19 defeat at home to high-flying Havant’s second team in Hampshire 1 on Saturday.
In squally, blustery conditions, Alton more than held their own in ultimately a tight encounter and it shows how far they have come as it was Havant who were counting down the final few minutes as they held on for the win.
Injuries still plague this Alton squad and after a few minutes, Ed Pasfield was forced from the pitch with a hamstring injury and the experienced Ian Thorn joined the front row with probably an earlier introduction than he anticipated.
Havant were looking to find their rhythm in the early moments but good jackalling by Harry Devonshire thwarted one dangerous attack as Alton marched forward in the face of a stiff breeze.
There seemed little danger from a Havant scrum on half-way, but they quickly spun the ball out wide, rounded the Alton backs and opened the scoring after 12 minutes with a try under the posts.
Alton responded immediately, aided by a few Havant penalties, with Joe Gwyther kicking them to within five metres. Leo Gardner rose superbly to secure the lineout and when the backs joined the rolling maul, the Havant pack disintegrated, and Thorn touched down.
Alton had the edge in the pack all afternoon, but in loose play Havant looked dangerous and offloaded well as the spaces began to open in a determined Alton defence.
The wind was now gaining in intensity, and it was increasingly difficult for Alton to gain any territory as Havant kept the ball in hand to score two further tries and establish a healthy 21-5 half-time lead.
Alton would have been looking for that wind to help them in the second half, but as luck would have it, it largely subsided. Nevertheless, Alton were increasingly on the front foot and dominated the first 15 minutes of the second half.
Alton appeared to have created an opening out wide, but the official ruled a cute Gwyther pass through his legs went forward.
As Alton struggled for quick ball, Havant resisted with a fine defensive stand as they pushed their hosts back to halfway, eventually forcing an error and ran the ball in for a bonus-point try that was harsh on the home side.
As Alton looked to regain the momentum, a Gwyther penalty kick to the corner was ruled to have crossed in the in-goal area and they were penalised and warned for questioning the decision.
The sizeable frame of Oliver Hunt forced a penalty as he latched on to the ball in a maul as Havant looked to close the game out and it was to be the catalyst as Alton rallied in the final 20 minutes once more.
Eventually, their efforts were rewarded. Space was created on the left wing and the elusive Ben Burrage dummied and then cut inside to score a deserved try from 20 metres.
Lewis New took over kicking duties to convert, and the score was 28-10 with 18 minutes remaining.
Gwyther’s deep kicking was ably supported by the enthusiastic chase and tackling from the backs, notably the effervescent Rollo Harrap, and it was Burrage again who took control and weaved his way through several defenders to score a fine try from 25 metres. New converted well again.
A Havant forward was immediately sinbinned for a no-arms tackle in the build-up to the try, and they gathered under their posts to agree their strategy for the final six minutes.
Havant were not exactly holding on, but they managed the game out well.
Even the most ardent Havant supporter would probably not have questioned that Alton deserved at least one bonus point and the difference between this performance and that early season drubbing was immense.
Alton travel to Basingstoke today (Saturday) for a key encounter in Hampshire 1.