By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER were forced to endure a frustrating afternoon in Dorset on Saturday, drawing nil-nil away at in-form Portland United in their final match before Christmas. But in honesty it was an even game played in unseasonably warm weather that neither side really deserved to lose, with the Royals securing yet another clean sheet and extending a streak of unbeaten games to six since late November.
Portland started the afternoon with their first opportunity after just sixty seconds when a cross fell to the lurking Franklyn Clarke, whose powerful effort from 6 yards was saved by Steven Mowthorpe down low and the ball was cleared away to safety. The away keeper’s clean sheet was again under threat on the quarter hour mark, but produced a great save to deny striker Riley Weedon scoring the opening goal.
After weathering the early storm Portchester started to have more possession and nearly took the lead after 28 minutes, Lee Wort playing through new signing Rafa Ramos who played a cross into Jatta that missed the striker. Shortly afterwards Harvey Aston ran into the penalty area and saw his effort saved by Portland keeper Mike Edgar before his cross was fired into the side netting from winger Marley Ridge.
Portland quickly asserted their earlier dominance in the final nine minutes of the first half with good attacking play resulting in a series of openings. On 37 minutes good interplay down the left saw wing-back Oli Lowes flash wide an angled effort whilst Sam Poole shot harmlessly over the bar shortly afterwards. A succession of corners in stoppage time saw defender Harry Hutchinson head over, the referee blowing his whistle soon afterwards.
With Dave Carter’s words ringing in their ears, Portchester came out firing after the break and should have been ahead on 48 minutes; Ramos and Jatta interlinked to play a ball to Aston out wide, whose curling effort from twenty yards skimmed the far post. This didn’t stop the visitors from creating chances as both Curt Da Costa and Wort went close as the hour mark approached, frustration building for both sides.
This boiled over on 62 minutes as a foul saw anger amongst the away contingent, with a member of Portchester’s staff sent off for abusive language. Visiting young winger Tyler Giddings was further sent to the sin-bin after dissent following the initial tackle, meaning his side were down to ten men temporarily. And Portland nearly took advantage when a deep cross by Clarke found Greg Borthwick who headed just wide, whilst a Josh Williams effort was gathered by Mowthorpe on 74 minutes of play.
Portchester created arguably their best opportunity with 13 minutes left as Wort found a pass into Ramos whose shot from 20 yards drifted over, whilst Jatta saw himself through on goal and saw his effort well saved by Edgar at his near post. But the home goalkeeper saved his best for last as Portchester won a penalty late in the game as a goalward effort was blocked by the hand of a defender, who was sent off for the offence. However Wort stepped up and saw his spot-kick brilliantly saved by Edgar, who also denied the follow-up effort as Portland held on for a well-deserved point.
The celebrations from home players at the final whistle showed how good this result was for Portland, who have been struggling with injuries and suspensions. But for Portchester and their missed penalty chance it will feel like two points dropped as the Royals look to move up the table, although they must look at the positives as they registered another ninety minutes without conceding a goal and continued their unbeaten run. The Royals will now have a week off over Christmas before hosting Hamble Club on December 27 in the league before playing Fareham in the third El-Creekio of the campaign on January 3 next year hoping to build on their ninth place position after 22 games played.
PICTURED BY DORSETDOM: Portchester and Portland cancel each other out amidst brilliant coast-side views