Jatta helps Royals beat league strugglers

By Connor Steel

AFC PORTCHESTER continued their recent resurgence with another win and clean sheet versus Hythe & Dibden on Saturday afternoon, beating their Southampton-based opponents two-nil to complete a league double against the team rooted to the bottom of the table. In grey and drizzly conditions at the On-Site Group Stadium, goals from Zak Sharp and Lamin Jatta either side of the interval saw the Royals get all three points; moving Dave Carter’s side up to eighth in the division after other results.

Hythe & Dibden did start the better with some possession in the Portchester half, Luca Prentice and Sam Woodward seeing shots easily saved by home goalkeeper Steven Mowthorpe down low. But a strong Royals team quickly regained control of the play as the visitors reverted to defensive tactics as Harvey Aston’s driven effort was saved by ex-Portchester goalkeeper Brad Snelling who gathered the rebound ahead of the lurking Lee Wort; whilst Curt Da Costa headed over a 18th minute corner.

Home pressure got its reward on twenty minutes when Portchester opened the scoring, good play down the left created space for a cut back into the penalty area. Sharp was lurking and placed a shot under the away keeper into the net, sparking relieved celebrations amongst the 133 fans watching. But any hopes that the opener would release the floodgates were quickly dampened as the visitors had a mini-spell just before the half hour mark, some corners and set pieces comfortably dealt with.

In the final fifteen minutes before the break Portchester saw many chances to double their lead with a series of shots from distance, unable to find space in a crowded penalty area. Marley Ridge, Conor Bailey and Jake Raine either shot wide or drew saves by Snelling in quickfire succession; Jatta further heading wide an in-swinging cross from Olly Searle on 41 minutes. Down the other end a rare attack from the visitors resulted in captain Craig Stanley finding space, but ultimately fired harmlessly wide.

Portchester came out brilliantly after the interval with quicker passing creating extra space behind a well-organised defence; Wort firing into the bottom corner after good work only for the officials’ flag to disallow a second goal. The striker had another chance on 53 minutes when he ran through with a pacey dribble but saw his angled effort lacked the power to beat Snelling, who further produced his best save of the afternoon by tipping Bailey’s dipping free kick from 20 yards out over the bar six moments later.

And after Sam Boon had dragged wide for the visitors before substitutions for both sides, it was two nil to Portchester on 66 minutes as Jatta intercepted a loose pass in midfield. The striker then ran 25 yards un-tackled before managing to round the outrushing Snelling and fire home into the open net. This proved to be the Hythe & Dibden goalkeeper’s final action of the afternoon as he suffered injury and was substituted by the away manager, gaining applause from his former fans as he left the field.

With the game already won for Portchester it was a very quiet last twenty minutes, despite chances for Wort and captain Sam Pearce going amiss in now persistent drizzle. It also got worse for visiting officials as the substitute goalkeeper also picked up a slight injury with no substitutions available, an outfield player taking the gloves for the final five minutes plus stoppage time. But Portchester didn’t capitalise on this advantage due to great away defending, with Tyler Giddings firing over a last shot.

Since their Portsmouth Senior Cup thrashing against Gosport Borough back on November 23, Dave Carter’s side have gone five games unbeaten including big wins over Cowes Sports and Fareham over the last seven days. It is also 409 minutes of action since the Royals last conceded versus Shaftesbury and the defence has now secured four successive clean sheets; a good run that Portchester will hope to continue throughout their final league matches of 2021 versus Portland United and Hamble Club.

PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Lamin Jatta collects pass and dribbles forward earlier this campaign