The Clarets began the match sluggishly with Havant enjoying the majority of possession, but they were made to rue not turning that into chances as Prestedge’s diving header in first-half stoppage time helped pull the Clarets eight points clear of the drop-zone.
Havant attempted to battle back throughout the second-half but both Matt Paterson and substitute Shamir Mullings were kept out by the impressive Christian Dibble as the Hawks hover a solitary point above relegation. The Clarets have put a string of three consecutive wins together in the nick of time which has seemingly eased any worries of going down, and they had to produce a dogged and stubborn display to pick up the points in Hampshire.
The Clarets made one alteration to the side that saw off Bath City 3-1 on Saturday with top-scorer Billy Bricknell dropping to the bench in place of Leyton Orient loanee Sandro Semedo due to a niggling back injury, meaning Jack Bridge retained his starting place despite limping off at the weekend.
Havant’s Dan Strugnell, meanwhile, failed a pre-match fitness test as the side looked to return to winning ways after their 2-1 defeat at Wealdstone on Saturday, and they made an impressive start with City ‘keeper Dibble forced into an early save, palming away Ben Swallow’s curling effort from the right hand side. Imposing centre-back Josh Hill then spurned a great chance from the resultant corner routine, nodding over after finding himself free at the back post.
McAuley then had to dive in front of James Hayter’s goal-bound effort after the striker was first to latch on to Swallow’s drilled cross from the right as the Clarets were pegged back further and further in to their own half, forcing them to absorb pressure for lengthy spells.
Clarets’ skipper Mark Hughes was walking on a tightrope for most of the match after he was booked on 12 minutes for a trip on George Barker but, luckily for the visitors, Scott Donnelly wasted the chance as he blazed the effort from the edge-of-the-box over the bar. It left City, who hardly had a touch of the ball in the first quarter of an hour, susceptible with the holding midfielder on a booking so early on.
It took a while for Chelmsford to force their way into the match on a heavy pitch but, as the cliché goes, the conditions were the same for both sides and City struggled to find rhythm to their passing with Jason Williams trying to hold the ball-up as the lone striker.
The Southend loanee was set free, though, after a quick counter-attack, and the frontman fought off the Havant defence before teeing up Semedo who fired a shot that Ryan Young stooped low to routinely collect in the goalmouth.
Bridge almost capitalised inside the box to mark a change in the tides in favour of the Clarets, but Young dived low to take the sting out of the winger’s shot as he wriggled free inside the box before pulling the trigger.
And Young was called into action again on the half-hour mark, making an outstanding save to first deny Semedo’s stinging shot before reacting quickest to Williams’ effort from the rebound and pouncing on the goal-line to keep the score level.
Havant were further indebted to their ‘keeper five minutes before the break when Graham’s free-kick broke to Marvel Ekpiteta who, some 40 yards from goal, let fly on a speculative shot that Young’s outstretched arm tipped over.
The hosts had a penalty shout turned down minutes prior to the interval with McAuley appearing to lean towards the ball, but handball appeals were turned turn while the referee, Sam Allison, booked City’s other central midfielder, Reece Prestedge, leaving the Clarets in an even more precarious position in the middle of the park.
But Prestedge more than made up for the booking with a goal in first-half stoppage time, his diving header nestling into the net after McAuley rose highest in the area to nod down Semedo’s free-kick from the right. Jubilation for the Clarets as what began as a poor half ended with a well-timed goal and an integral lead.
Havant were up in arms shortly after the break as Mark Haines demonstrated great upper body strength to shrug Hayter off the ball inside the box. The penalty appeal was waved away. The Hawks were seething.
It was then Dibble’s turn to step up to the plate as he dived low to deny Mullings an almost certain goal, just as Havant were gaining some momentum and returning to the style that enabled them to dominate the opening 20 minutes.
Paterson came closer still with a glancing header from a deep cross on the right but, for all their chances, Dibble stood strong and was on hand again when he reacted to Mullings’ powerful effort from range..
He was on hand yet again in the dying stages as the Clarets were forced to work hard for the win, deflecting wide a stinging shot from Donnelley that had plenty of power behind it.
Daryl McMahon, manager of the Clarets’ next opponents, Ebbsleet United, was watching on from the stands at Westleigh Park and will hope to extend the Fleet’s lead at the summit of the National League South table when Kevin Maher takes his side to Kent on Saturday. City are unbeaten in their last three visits to Stonebridge Road but will have to have a much better first-half than they did against Havant if they are to come away with a share of the spoils. This win, however, has all but secured survival thanks to three consecutive wins. It was a back to the walls performance in the second-half but three points is three points.
Havant & Waterlooville:
1. Ryan Young
2. Lee Molyneaux
3. Harry Medway
4. Brian Stock (C)
5. Andreas Robinson
6. Josh Hill
7. Ben Swallow
8. Scott Donnelly
9. Matt Paterson
10. James Hater
11. George Barker
12. Shamir Mullings (On for George Barker, 63’)
14. Arron Mitchell
15. Warren Cummings
16. Theo Lewis
17. Nic Ciardini (On for Harry Medway, 63’)
1. Christian Dibble
2. Rob Girdlestone
3. Marvel Ekpiteta
4. Mark Hughes (C)
5. Mark Haines
6. Rory McAuley
7. Jack Bridge
9. Jason Williams
10. Sandro Semedo
11. Bagasan Graham
18. Reece Prestedge
12. Billy Bricknell
14. Marvin Ekpiteta (On for Jack Bridge, 83’)
15. Harry Morgan
16. Luke Daley (On for Sandro Semedo, 65’)
17. Timothy Monsheju
Referee: Mr. Sam Allison (Bath)
Assistant Referees: Mr. Tony Foster and Mr. James Durkin
Bookings: Havant & Waterlooville: Brian Stock (36’, foul), Scott Donnelly (45', foul)
Chelmsford City: Mark Hughes (12’, foul), Reece Prestedge (42’, foul), Mark Haines (52’, late foul), Christian Dibble (77’, time wasting), Jason Williams (81’, dissent)
Scorers: Havant & Waterlooville: None
Chelmsford City: Reece Prestedge (45+1')
HT Score: 0-1
FT Score: 0-1
City Man of the Match: Christian Dibble