By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER were consigned to their second defeat of the 2022-23 season on Wednesday night as they exited the Wessex League Cup, losing one-nil against postcode rivals Baffins Milton Rovers in a closely fought last 16 tie at the On-Site Group Stadium. And in fairness this was arguably the right result after ninety minutes as the hosts struggled to break through the organised visitors despite many chances, Miles Everett’s winner sealing progress for the away outfit as they avenged a three-two league loss earlier in the campaign.
In dry overcast conditions Baffins started on the front foot as they created their first chance after five minutes when good interplay found Charlie Oakwell in space; the midfielder’s long range effort brilliantly parried away from Royals keeper Steven Mowthorpe at his near post. Brad Gale further drove just wide under pressure as Portchester worked their way into the match with their first foray forward seeing a cross from Tyler Giddings reach away keeper Roux Hardcastle via a slight deflection as both sides made little errors early in the game.
The visitors worked hard as the Royals saw a series of corners and set piece opportunities down either wing, but were dealt a blow as Gale went down in agony following a fifty-fifty challenge; sadly being taken off on a stretcher to gentle applause following an injury stoppage lasting several minutes. And it did take a little spell for the game to resume to its previous intensity before the half hour mark as Harrison Brook fired straight at Hardcastle from twenty yards, Everett seeing his effort blocked down the other end with scores staying level.
On thirty-three minutes came the best chance for either team as Harry Beckley’s swerving effort from around 30 yards caught Hardcastle off guard as he spilled the shot and had to recover well to turn the ball away; the referee turning down a loud home appeal as they believed the ball had crossed the line. In response Baffins calmed down the proceedings with a spell of neatly kept possession that resulted in two half chances before the interval; Oakwell’s cross headed wide by Kelvin Robinson who also fired wide in first half additional time.
Everett was booked after 49 minutes as he stopped a threatening Portchester attack with a late tackle, but it was his goalkeeper that stopped the next opportunity seven minutes later; Hardcastle denying a low effort by George Barker following a long ball down the middle. Substitutions then followed for both sides either side of the hour mark in order to seal another derby victory, Baffins showing hard graft against solid possession from Portchester before seeing Joe Johnson break through on goal only to see his low curling effort parried away.
But the away players were undeterred and scored an opener with 71 minutes played as Everett was allowed far too much space midway through the host’s host, making no mistake as he advanced towards the goal at pace and unleashed a well-angled effort that nestled into the bottom right corner of Mowthorpe’s net. Further home substitutions followed in Brett Pitman and James Cowan, which almost made an immediate impact as Curt Da Costa forced Hardcastle to make a superb double diving save to keep his team still leading one-nil.
Baffins received the perfect opportunity to double their lead after eighty-three minutes as Johnson was found in space and was fouled preparing to shoot into the corner; the referee giving a spot kick and sending off the substitute Sam Pearce for the last man challenge. Up stepped Oakwell who saw his penalty saved brilliantly down to his side by Mowthorpe, this missed opportunity not proving costly overall as they showed great spirit to resist home pressure in the final seven minutes to finish the win and progress into the knockout last eight.
With their away success Baffins join seven other teams, including Fareham Town, into the quarter finals with the draw due to be announced in the coming weeks; attentions now turning to Wessex League action for the Royals as they look to bounce back from a rare loss. Dave Carter’s team are scheduled to face another big postcode derby on Saturday as they play US Portsmouth away, before playing 2 home cup games; hosting Brockenhurst in the Russell Coates Cup next Tuesday evening and Phoenix Sports in the FA Vase (22/10).
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Baffins’ defenders stand firm in face of tricky dribbling from Portchester winger, helping them to seal place in quarter finals of Wessex League Cup after one-nil win on Wednesday.