By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER dropped league points for the first time in four matches on Saturday afternoon as they travelled to bitter rivals Fareham Town; drawing two-apiece after an entertaining ninety minutes of action that saw the Creeksiders twice battle back from behind. And this was the fairest of results with both teams having chances to seal local bragging rights with Fareham being the happiest; clinching the first league point versus Dave Carter’s high-flyers since August 2021 and achieving a large crowd of 1107 supporters at Cams Alders.
Under grey skies it was Portchester who started brightly and they took the lead within four minutes of kick-off when a corner landed kindly to Brett Pitman; the striker’s speculative shot nestling inside the left corner via a wicked deflection for one-nil. The early advantage may have been doubled moments later as Harrison Brook played a threaded pass to find Scott Jones who fired over under pressure; proceedings then sadly halted for a brief moment due to a supporter invading the surface with security staff working together to resolve issues.
The interruption seemed to benefit Fareham as they created their opening opportunity after nineteen minutes when Curt Robbins fired over the crossbar from an angle; Charlie Cooper and Connor Underhill further going close as the hosts searched for a quickfire leveller. And they did not have to wait long as the Creeksiders did equalise after twenty-two minutes when Josh Benfield latched onto a looped cross-field ball by Marley Ridge; calmly collecting off his chest before hitting a volleyed drive into the bottom right leaving the keeper standing.
A period of away possession appeared to calm this fast-paced derby with both sides seeing good chances to take the lead before half time; Casey Bartlett-Scott dragging wide his drive for Fareham before Josh Benfield saw two efforts blocked at source as he looked to double his personal tally for the afternoon. In response the away side had a brilliant chance to retake their earlier advantage on forty-three minutes when George Barker won the ball and narrowly crossed just over Pitman’s head in the area; the score staying level at the interval.
The visitors saw some solid possession upon the second half restart and this nearly reaped the reward when home goalkeeper Luke Deacon had to be alert; denying skidding efforts from both Pitman and James Cowan off the bouncy surface within just minutes of each other. It wasn’t one-way traffic however with the home side looking particularly dangerous on the counter attack; earning a succession of set-pieces and making the next opportunity after the hour; Underhill feeding Josh Benfield whose shot was saved by Mowthorpe’s diving leg.
Home substitutions then followed with proceedings now replicating a classic cup encounter as the two outfits traded chances; Pitman nodding over for Portchester and Cooper firing wide from twenty-five yards down the other end. The third goal was coming and it arrived for the away team after seventy-two minutes following an incisive passage of passing; Charlie Williamson playing a deep ball down the middle and fell to Brook whose effort beat the outrushing keeper before trickling into the bottom corner to spark big Portchester celebrations.
Buoyed by their loyal fanbase Fareham responded brilliantly and were awarded a penalty within two minutes of conceding as Josh Benfield was tripped inside the box; Tom Settle calmly stepping up and slotting into the corner despite Mowthorpe diving in the right direction. There were also calls of controversy within added time when Cooper was sent off for a second yellow card after a soft foul was given; Portchester creating two huge chances as Brook missed a free header and Charlie Bell forced a stop from Deacon as the draw was sealed.
The scoreline does not necessarily help anybody involved as the Premier Division approaches its last stretch with between eleven and seventeen matches left to play; Portchester’s solid lead at the top reduced to seven points above Bemerton Heath Harlequins and AFC Stoneham following other results on Saturday. In contrast Fareham have slipped down to 12th in the standings with two games in hand on the sides around them; their next match being a trip to Baffins Milton Rovers in midweek whilst the Royals are set to play Hamble (07/03).
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Pitman starts to celebrate his fourth minute opener against Fareham at Cams Alders but his side are pegged back by home comeback, meaning the points are shared in El-Creekio.