El-Creekio stalemate as Town get late goal

By Connor Steel / Photograph by Chris Moorhouse

AFC Portchester’s long wait for a home league El-Creekio victory continues for another season as they were pegged back by Fareham Town on Tuesday.

On an eventful evening in front of a bumper crowd of 500 supporters, a late equaliser from the Creeksiders saw them seal a two-all draw despite  the home side looking the better at the On-Site Group Stadium in dry but overcast and humid conditions.

Portchester started brightly in the opening stages of this local derby as they saw a good spell of possession down the right which was cleared out for a corner on three minutes. This set piece delivery was inch perfect and allowed Sam Pearce a free header; but the ball was plucked out of the net by a great save by Fareham goalkeeper Dan Kempson down low to keep the scores at nil-nil.

After absorbing the early pressure it appeared that Fareham were happy to play on the counter attack given injury issues and a leaky defence so far this season. This tactic almost received instant rewards on the first attempt as Charlie Cooper received the ball in space on the right, cutting in and beating two defenders as he advanced. However he fired wide of the far post with a powerful drive.

Despite this chance for the visitors, the Royals appeared to have fresher legs after 10 days off the pitch and they took advantage in scoring first after nine minutes. An incisive through ball by the midfield split Town’s defence and found its way through to Kieran Roberts who slotted home into the bottom left corner, sending a huge home contingent into raptures behind Dan Kempson’s goal.

A free-kick for Portchester ultimately came to nothing but the home side weren’t about to let their heads drop and should have been two-nil ahead on 18 minutes. George Barker played a pass into the feet of George Colson down the right side, who then fed Kieron Roberts to let fly towards the corner. However not for the first time the gloves of Kempson diverted the ball for a corner, with the two Royals combining again three minutes later before the low shot was blocked at its source.

Fareham hadn’t created much in the opening half an hour, but suddenly swung into life with their best chance as Simon Woods’ header from a corner went millimetres over the crossbar and Cooper fizzed an effort wide of the goal after a cross. On 32 minutes the Creeksiders went close again with a shot flying harmlessly wide with the ball falling kindly after Portchester keeper Steven Mowthorpe punched a dangerous cross away from goal.

Luckily Town weren’t going to rue missed opportunities as they equalised on 36 minutes, getting rewarded for a great spell of pressure after a slow-ish and cautious opening.  A shot from the left saw the ball hit the crossbar, with the rebound falling straight to the feet of Simon Woods who made no mistake in tapping into the unguarded net from seven yards. This levelled the scores and the remaining nine minutes before the break saw a calmer approach from both sides, perhaps not wanting to make an error that would change their manager’s team talks.

Similarly to the first half, Portchester started the second half in control as they tried to break down a stubborn away defence with a long ball from substitute Zak Sharp narrowly evading the run of Keiron Roberts through the middle. Moments later a beautiful passage of play saw Roberts through on goal and he cut it back to George Barker on the edge of the box, but with the net gaping the low effort curled off target.

Sixty minutes saw Fareham’s best chance of the second period when Josh Benfield was released down the left and shot towards goal. But the shot was brilliantly held by the home keeper to much applause from both sides of fans. A free kick 60 seconds later was also cleared by the Royals defence, which led to a set piece down the other end. Although this delivery was sent out for a corner by the Fareham defender, it allowed Portchester to take the lead with 26 minutes left.

The delivery was floated into the crowded penalty area and seemed to be drifting into the goalkeeper’s hands, but Fareham missed the run of Zak Sharp. The defender rose higher than the gloves of Kempson, turning in the loose ball to make it 2-1 to the home side. It should have been three one and the game minutes later when a brilliant ball over the top found Colson in space, but the right back’s shot was straight at the keeper when either side would have surely seen a third goal.

A spell of substitutions didn’t stop the Portchester onslaught as they looked to put the result beyond doubt in humid overcast conditions at Wicor. The ever-dangerous Roberts was again put through on goal and his shot from an extremely tight angle hit the base of the near post, leaving Kempson stranded before bouncing to safety. Marley Ridge then saw a brilliant shot saved by the Fareham keeper on 76 minutes as the youngster broke through the defensive line, before a final Portchester chance came from Steve Ramsey who fired wide after advancing towards the penalty area with 12 left to play.

Sensing an opportunity Fareham switched into attack mode and this panicked Portchester into defending their lead, which would have seen them seal a first home league win over the Creeksiders since 2016. A free kick was blasted over the crossbar with an effort likened to that of a rugby conversion got sarcastic cheers from the Portchester fans, who were almost silenced when Luke Slade’s shot flew over the bar on 86 minutes and Ashley Tattersall headed wide from close range.

But just as the home fans were counting their chickens and celebrating a needed win over their rival, Fareham equalised with virtually their last chance of the game in additional time. A corner on the left caused chaos in the Royals’ box and sparked a large goalmouth scramble, with Kai Sterne quickest to react as he slammed home a sudden equaliser must to the annoyance of the home side, bagging his second goal in two games after he scored versus Bashley three days earlier.

Although this goal sparked different emotions for each set of fans, for the neutral it was simply another example of football and derbies proving to be dramatic right down to the last mini-second as the game finished two-all after 90 minutes. It meant that Fareham and Portchester had to settle for a point apiece, a result that doesn’t really help league positions even at this early stage as both haven’t registered their first win yet. In fact the Creekside rivals sit next to each other in the Wessex League table (13th and 14th) on two points, although the Royals have played one game less.

For now though attention turns to the FA Cup Preliminary round on Saturday afternoon, where both will feature in away trips versus Wessex League opponents. Portchester will be travelling to Blackfield & Langley on the outskirts of Southampton, whilst Town will visit Alresford Town up the motorway to the North of Hampshire. Both ties will take place with a 3pm kick-off, with the draw due to be held on Monday lunchtime for the winners.