By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER must play another league season in the Wessex Premier Division as they collapsed to a heavy three-nil defeat away at Bemerton Heath Harlequins on Tuesday night; consigning the side to fourth position in the final standings as the home team sealed promotion alongside eventual champions Horndean.
Supported by their large travelling contingent Dave Carter’s side started confidently in possession and saw a good chance to score within two minutes as George Barker dragged wide from twenty yards; top-scorer Brett Pitman further seeing his drive deflected over with the resulting corners saved by goalkeeper Patrick Creese.
Bemerton soon responded to the early pressure in brilliant fashion when they opened their account after four minutes when a cross was played into the penalty area and wasn’t cleared away by the nervy-looking Royals defence; Greg Peel taking full advantage as he fired his shot low under the diving legs of Steven Mowthorpe.
This lead was doubled in the eighteenth minute when a recycled set-piece caught the wind and deceived the away backline before being lashed home by Kane O’Keefe via an overhead rocket; Bemerton almost surging further ahead either side of the half hour with both efforts from Oscar Johnston and Peel missing their target.
The away outfit attempted to halve their arrears before the half time interval and had their best chance of the night after 40 minutes when Barker linked up the play smartly with Pitman; the former firing a shot straight at Creese from an angle before a dangerous cross landed to Jake Raine in stoppage time but he dragged over.
Portchester needed an outstanding second half performance to salvage this encounter but any lasting hopes were quickly quashed in the forty-ninth minute; O’Keefe heading home a fine cross down the right flank after brilliant passing play to make it three-nil to the hosts with other scores going their way in this promotion race.
This third goal appeared to knock the stuffing out of Portchester but they never gave up their desire with two substitutions settling the home momentum; James Cowan in particular looking dangerous as he showed two defenders the shoulder before advancing into space and placing his curling shot just inches wide of the post.
Down the other end Bemerton looked to add to their scoring with a mix of great openings with approximately twenty minutes to play; Charlie Burden flashing into the side netting after being found in the channel by Peel before the captain Callum Sweeney saw a low skidding drive gathered by Mowthorpe on the second attempt.
Despite the scoreline Portchester remained a threat going forward and created two big opportunities to add a consolation in the final minutes; Harrison Brook firing straight at Creese from close range with his side-footed effort before Ryan Wilkins’ flicked drive was brilliantly tipped away under pressure for a corner in added time.
Combined with other results Portchester fell from second to fourth place in the final table with Horndean and Bemerton sealing the two promotion spots for next campaign. But despite heart-break they have a chance of some silverware as they travel to Horndean next Tuesday evening for the Portsmouth Senior Cup semi-final.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Brett Pitman leads the protests following a second half tackle; the away side falling to a heavy three nil loss away at Bemerton Heath Harlequins on Tuesday evening to finish fourth.