Deans blow title race open with Royals win

By Connor Steel

HORNDEAN outlined their credentials in the Wessex League Premier as they continued their superb winning streak versus AFC Portchester; overcoming their hosts two-one in a close and nervy encounter at the OnSite Group Stadium as a crowd of 1,458 supporters attended on Easter Saturday in hopes of clinching promotion.

Outside queuing may have delayed the kick-off until 3:15pm but it didn’t stop the Royals from making a rapid start under clear blue skies, winning a penalty after five minutes when Scott Jones was fouled inside the box. Up stepped Harrison Brook who made no mistake in slamming home past Horndean keeper Cameron Scott.

But the visitors responded brilliantly to equalise after eleven minutes when Tommy Scutt created space down the left and played a neat ball into the path of Rudi Blankson to fire home past Steven Mowthorpe; Horndean almost taking the lead ninety seconds later when Harry Jackson broke through on goal but fired inches wide.

The momentum continued as Horndean dominated possession and created multiple openings to score again before the half hour mark; Zack Willett subtly dinking his effort past the post and captain Ash Howes shooting harmlessly over the crossbar from twenty-five yards out with Rob Taw further seeing a diving header caught.

Despite the away control Portchester threatened after thirty-four minutes when Marley Ridge ran through the midfield before feeding Jones, who forced a good save by the outrushing Scott. And this was punished when Horndean added their second before the break: Willett tapping home at the back post at the second attempt.

Dave Carter’s side started well upon the restart with a controlled period of possession that was cancelled out by the visitors; who continued to look dangerous as Jackson saw a goal disallowed for offside. The warnings continued as Willett had two openings inbehind the backline with Mowthorpe denying him on both occasions.

Blankson nearly doubled his tally for the afternoon as he nodded just over the crossbar on sixty-five minutes, which prompted Portchester to make three attacking changes including Brett Pitman. But they failed to make an immediate impact as Horndean went close yet again through Willett, the striker dragging over at an angle.

Pitman had his team’s best chance to equalise on seventy-four minutes after an incisive passing move found him in space; his run into the area blocked by a superb tackle. From this resulting corner both the striker and Steve Ramsey saw various efforts cleared away by an organised Horndean defence before Ridge shot wide.

These squandered opportunities looked to knock the stuffing out of Portchester who sadly laboured their way through the last ten minutes; failing to create any further chances despite dominating possession and playing multiple crosses into the area with no outcome as Horndean sealed three welcome points in a tight title race.

Despite this home defeat Portchester stay top of the table with a sizable lead over Stoneham and Horndean; both title challengers having games in hand during the next fortnight. The Royals themselves have two tricky away matches to come as they play Hamble next weekend before they visit Bemerton Heath on the final day.

PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Horndean attacker is denied by a brilliant defensive sliding tackle as the visitors seal huge victory at the Crest Finance Stadium, blowing open the title race going into the final run-in.