By Connor Steel
FAREHAM TOWN progressed to their first ever Wessex League final and finally ended their winless run on Tuesday night, dumping bitter rivals AFC Portchester out of the competition at the semi-final stage. It finished one-nil to the Creeksiders in a cagey and nervy derby played in front of over five hundred fans at Cams Alders; Dan Bennett scoring the winner in the first half before Steve Ramsey missed a penalty in the second as Dave Carter’s team struggled to muster any cutting edge in attack when it mattered in front of goal.
The Creeksiders started the better on a dry evening and created the first chance after six minutes, a loose pass was intercepted by Ben Rowthorn whose dangerously-looking cross was cleared away by Sam Pearce. From the resulting corner Garry Moody’s header was parried by Portchester goalkeeper Steven Mowthorpe whilst Curt Da Costa was alert to block an effort from Stuart Morgan away from goal on the rebound; before Charlie Cooper’s curling effort missed the post from twenty-five yards in the sixteenth minute of play.
Having weathered the early storm Portchester saw their opening attack on twenty minutes when a fine cross-ball pass from Pearce picked out Harvey Aston on the right side; the winger cutting back to find George Barker whose shot was blocked at source. Moments later another away attack ended in Ramsey’s low driven effort drifting harmlessly wide, whilst Zak Sharp’s out-swinging cross narrowly missed the head of Wort just before the half hour; Fareham punishing these missed chances just minutes later as they took the lead on their very next attack.
Passing around the back eventually found Ben Rowthorn in space down the right, advancing and beating his marker before cutting back to Bennett; who simply made no mistake in calmly firing past Mowthorpe with a side-footed finish into the corner, sparking huge celebrations amongst the home fans. But the Creeksiders were given a scare in the final moments before the interval as the Royals nearly equalised, Marley Ridge’s low effort pushed away by keeper Henry Woodcock before Ramsey slipped as he smashed the rebound over the bar; the referee blowing for half time seconds later.
Portchester came out firing in the second period and saw another Ridge shot deflected over the bar, but created their best chance of the night on 52 minutes as Da Costa was fouled in the box chasing a loose ball; thus winning a penalty for the visitors. However away joy soon turned to frustration with Ramsey’s spot kick was too low and was saved by Woodcock diving to his right to deny the Royals’ captain; the rebound bouncing in the area before being cleared away by Wilcox with the attentions of Wort and Barker closing in to slot home into the now unguarded net.
As proceedings passed the hour mark it was an even affair with both sides seeing chances; Bennett seeing a low shot saved by Mowthorpe and firing over another effort for Fareham, Jake Raine and Conor Bailey linking up down the other end on 68 minutes with the cross to Wort headed against the covering defender by the striker. Substitutions then followed for each teams including Siph Mdladlose for the Creeksiders, who nearly made an immediate impact as he headed wide his first touch on 78 minutes with the net gaping for a shot on target from six yards out.
Fareham nearly doubled their lead on 81 minutes as Dave Vincent’s surging run was halted with the free-kick from Casey Bartlett-Scott hitting the Portchester wall; Cooper setting up Curt Robbins just moments later to fire wide before flicking the post with a low effort in Fareham’s last chance on 89 minutes. From this point the defence sought to protect their clean sheet, which they did after three minutes of stoppage time despite a scare; Portchester’s final opportunity seeing Bradley Lethbridge and Wort set up substitute Connor Hoare whose hooked effort was gathered by Woodcock as the referee ending the game as the ball was cleared to safety by the relieved Fareham goalkeeper.
Fareham will now play high-flying Shaftesbury in the final on April 30, which will be ironically played at Portchester’s ground with a 3pm kick-off. Attentions now must turn to their league form as they travel to Bashley this weekend hoping for their first league win since January, before hosting postcode rivals Moneyfields next Tuesday night at Cams Alders. For Portchester they will hope to bounce back from this latest semi-final heartbreak by beating Shaftesbury away in Dorset on Saturday afternoon, before hosting Bournemouth Poppies the following weekend.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Fareham defender Archie Wilcox and Portchester attacker George Barker challenge for the ball in closely fought semi-final encounter between the rivals held on Tuesday night.