By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER edged even closer to their automatic promotion from the Wessex Premier Division on Saturday afternoon as they hosted Baffins Milton Rovers at the OnSite Group Stadium; drawing one-all after a close and nervy local derby that was made even trickier by pitch conditions following recent awful weather.
Both sides started slowly on a boggy surface with the opening chance falling to Portchester on three minutes when Brett Pitman had a header blocked at the near post; the hotshot striker further clipping just wide before Scott Jones had an effort saved by Baffins keeper Roux Hardcastle diving low to his right in a dominant start.
The visitors then saw periods of possession that resulted in their first effort on target as Tom Vincent headed straight at the home goalkeeper Steve Mowthorpe; Jack Francis looking dangerous down the left flank as he outpaced Ryan Wilkins but drove wide from twenty-five yards out as he cut inside in the 22nd minute of play.
Dave Carter’s team were still in relative control however and they had two huge chances before the half hour mark as they looked to capitalise; Wilkins heading straight at Hardcastle from a tight angle and Marley Ridge forcing the away shotstopper into an anxious moment as he spilled his driven effort before gathering the ball.
The last ten minutes before half time were fairly quiet in comparison as the ball seemed to stick upon the wet surface, slowing down any promising attacks for both sides. There was a chance that saw Jones nod straight at Hardcastle from close range after forty-three minutes; both defences standing strong to end the half nil-nil.
It was Portchester who came out firing upon the restart with Ridge seeing his powerful effort tipped away and Jones having two individual shots blocked by the brilliant Dan Wood in defence; the home attack also playing a succession of crosses into a packed penalty area that ultimately failed to test the organised away backline.
Baffins then took the lead against the run of play on fifty eight minutes as patient passing found Miles Everett on the edge of the penalty area; the midfielder showing quick feet to beat three defenders before sending his shot into the right corner leaving Mowthorpe with no chance as he was beaten by sheer accuracy and power.
Substitutions followed for both teams as frustrations seemed to rise for the hosts who saw Pitman sin-binned for dissent after Wood went down with a head injury. But they were cheering the referee on 74 minutes when they won a penalty as Harrison Brook was tripped, the winger getting up and converting the spot kick for 1-1.
Some niggly fouls led to further anger for Portchester as their boss was sent away from the touchline after a red card; his players almost clinching all three points when a throw-in was placed straight at Hardcastle after 78 minutes. And this was the final notable chance as this match petered out towards a stalemate conclusion.
Combining this result with postponements it means that Portchester remain eight points clear at the summit and 14 above third place Horndean, who have at least five games in hand due to their calendar. The Easter weekend will see first play third in a huge tie that could seal promotion for the Royals, pending other results.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Pitch conditions were difficult throughout as Portchester drew with local postcode rivals Baffins Milton Rovers on Saturday afternoon, helping the Royals edge to a league promotion.