By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER ended their losing streak on the third time lucky as they earned a credible home draw against high-flying Shaftesbury on Saturday afternoon in front of over 130 supporters as both sides cancelled each other out. Goals from Sam Pearce for the hosts and an equaliser from Ashley Pope for Shaftesbury meant the points were shared on a freezing afternoon at the On-Site Group Stadium, which proved to be a result that both sides deserved after this battling league encounter.
Shaftesbury started the brighter as they won a series of corners with mixed success due to gusty crosswinds, one reaching Cameron Beard who headed over under pressure on seven minutes. Just moments later Greg Peel collected a through ball and held off his marker, firing narrowly wide on the turn from twenty yards before captain Asa Phillips forced a smart save by Royals keeper Steven Mowthorpe on 21 minutes. But Portchester held firm and were rewarded with a shock opening goal.
The Royals won a free kick as Harvey Ashton’s mazy dribble was halted illegally, players joking and switching off when preparing for the set piece. Pearce was alert to this lack of concentration, driving a low shot through the wall and into the far corner across away keeper Lewis Gunstone-Gray to give the hosts an advantage on 23 minutes. In response to this opener against the run of play, the visiting side almost gained an immediate chance for parity as they themselves won a free kick 25 yards out.
This set piece was taken by Luke Delaney and his placed curling effort beat Mowthorpe for pace, but luckily for Portchester it smashed off the crossbar over for a goal-kick. Down the other end the hosts saw Ramsey put through on goal and saw his effort blocked by the outrushing Shaftesbury keeper on 34 minutes as Portchester looked to go into the lead ahead. But in a final move before the interval, a corner wasn’t cleared by the home defence and fell kindly to Pope who comfortably levelled scores.
It was a quiet opening to the second period with Portchester dominating possession but lacking final passes or crosses as Shaftesbury absorbed this pressure well, which allowed them to hit the hosts on the counter attack in the 52nd minute as Harry Wilkinson shot wide from an angle. On the hour mark a low effort from Aiden Shepherd looked to skid off the bouncy surface and initially looked to cause Mowthorpe some problems, but the Portchester keeper relieved home nerves by gathering the ball.
Substitutions for both sides caused a lull as play turned into a midfield battle with neither side giving opportunities away despite shots for Ollie Marsh and James Wilson for Shaftesbury; Lee Wort firing over the bar from range after receiving the ball on 71 minutes. Portchester again saw another attack thwarted by Shaftesbury defenders and won a series of corner opportunities, with deliveries mostly affected in wind and several promising moves were ended by overhit passes on this bouncy surface.
Following half chances for Shaftesbury through both Jack Mitchell and Delaney in quick succession, it was Portchester who were looking more dangerous as the game entered its final ten minutes as cold temperatures began to bite. On 83 minutes George Barker received a pass and advanced forward, an angled effort from twenty yards beating the away keeper and hitting the post; whilst Steve Ramsey’s shot was blocked at source by good defensive work in stoppage time with the final notable chances.
After defeats to Gosport and Moneyfields, this one-all stalemate is the first step of improvements as Dave Carter’s men embark on a busy festive period of cup and league action that could help define a mixed campaign so far. The twelfth placed Royals face Cowes Sports and Hythe & Dibden before mid -December in their next two league games, whilst cup encounters versus Fareham and New Milton Town in varying competitions over the coming fortnight. For Shaftesbury they will play Bashley in an away league encounter on Tuesday before straight home games against Horndean and Moneyfields.
PICTURED BY PORTCHESTER MEDIA: Teams cancel each other out from an early corner on cold afternoon