By Connor Steel
HAMWORTHY UNITED were crowned champions of the Wessex League Premier just days after sealing promotion to the Southern League in midweek, beating Portchester four-one in a display worthy of title success on Saturday afternoon. But despite the scoreline the Royals held their own for long periods in lovely spring sunshine, although they struggled to recover from a goal just before the half-time interval that turned the match in favour of their Dorset-based opponents at the On-Site Group Stadium.
Portchester kicked off and started proceedings with crisp passing that allowed them to create the 1st opportunity of the afternoon on four minutes as Marley Ridge found Rafa Ramos in space with his back to goal; the in-form striker turning his marker but dragging wide from 20 yards under pressure from the defence. In response Hamworthy saw quickfire opportunities as the clock neared the fifteen minute mark after an even but direct start, Lee Francis driving wide from an angle following good play down the right side and Jack Lowell having a low shot well saved by home goalkeeper Steven Mowthorpe.
On twenty-one minutes the hosts had their next chance when Steve Ramsey’s cut-back found Jake Raine in space with the midfielder’s first time effort blocked at source, whilst Cameron Munn shot over moments later down the other end as both teams lacked the final touch in a series of half chances. This all changed on 31 minutes when Hamworthy won a dangerous free kick that was taken by Stephen Devlin, his in-swinging delivery met by a brave header from Max Wilcock who placed a nodded effort in at the back post.
The hosts nearly got an immediate equaliser sixty seconds later as Felipe Barcelos received the ball at his feet in the box and his shot was cleared off the line, but Portchester did make it one-all on 39 minutes when a deep cross was headed home by Sam Pearce into the top corner to spark relieved celebrations. However the league leaders were quick to spoil the party as they scored again in the 1st minute of stoppage time as Devlin hit the bar with his cross and it fell to Wilcock who simply couldn’t miss from three yards; a goal that proved to be the final notable action before the half time break with a two-one away lead.
The first attack of the second period came on 49 minutes from a Hamworthy set-piece which was cleared away and Portchester hit them on the break; Barcelos showing good footwork to tee up a lurking Steve Ramsey whose shot narrowly flew over away keeper Shane Murphy’s crossbar. This scare seemed to spark life in the visitors as Munn’s shot was smothered and Drew Escott-Young’s drive was charged down alongside a succession of corners as the game reached the hour mark with only half chances; both sides cancelling each other out in the final third as a tight midfield battle continued.
Substitutions ultimately opened up space in attacking areas with Hamworthy seeking to profit as a long ball released Munn through on goal, the striker’s placed effort well saved by Mowthorpe before being cleared away by a defender; a dangerous free kick from Wilcock further parried by the home goalkeeper on 71 minutes. Down the other end George Barker nearly made an immediate impact as he was found in space by fellow substitute Archie-Lee Greenough, the winger’s rising effort straight at Murphy as the goalkeeper comfortably caught the ball with both gloves at head height in the seventy-eighth minute.
With the game still on a knife-edge Portchester had their last change when Barker linked up with his strike-partner Bradley Lethbridge down the right, the shot slicing the far post with fans hoping the net would ripple. This happened at the other end as Hamworthy made it three-one on 88 minutes incisive team football finding Wilcock who sealed his hat-trick with ease at the back post. And after Ridge was sent to the sin-bin for dissent the visitors added a final flourish in stoppage time, Matthew Neale finding the overlapping Edward Hodges who simply smashed past Mowthorpe at his near post; the referee confirming the championship for Hamworthy and a muchly deserved three points shortly afterwards.
With promotion and the league title already secured, Hamworthy have seen off the threat of Bashley in second; the New Forest based side potentially sealing their own promotion on points per game in the runners-up position. For Portchester they were helped by Moneyfields losing to third place Shaftesbury, remaining seventh in the standings with just the single games left to play. This will be played at the On-Site Group Stadium next Saturday afternoon as Dave Carter’s men host mid-table side Portland United in their bid to finish this mixed and long 2021-22 campaign on a final high.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Portchester attacker fires goal-wards to no avail as hosts are beaten by Hamworthy United from Dorset, who confirmed the Wessex League Premier title with four-one win.