By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER continued their unbeaten start to the league campaign on Saturday afternoon as they made their longest away journey, beating Portland United three-two in a thrilling topsy-turfy encounter at the Camp & Satherley. Yet again it was Brett Pitman who proved the hero in strong winds and heavy rain as the ever-green striker hit a treble including the stoppage time winner; Dave Carter’s team showing that fight and determination can win football matches as they twice bounced back from losing positions to get three points.
With no pitch inspection needed it was the visitors who adapted quicker to conditions and they created a first chance in the second minute, Pitman dragging inches wide from Liam Robinson’s delivery down the left. This sparked Portland into life as Brin Doyle scuffed his low effort under pressure before Ben Morris fired over the crossbar just moments later; Portchester further going forward on ten minutes as great interplay resulted in a corner that was met by Curtis Da Costa who could only drive his close range effort into the midfielder’s torso.
The visitors seemed undeterred at missed opportunities and kept piling into good attacking areas with James Cowan firing wide of the far post, Elliot Wheeler forcing home goalkeeper Mike Edgar into an excellent diving save on 37 minutes as he headed goalwards. Down the other end Josh Williams was looking threatening as he cut inside and saw his effort saved by away shot-stopper Steven Mowthorpe before George Shuttle sliced over from 25 yards out; the first half seemingly destined to end goalless despite opportunities for both teams.
But this dead-lock was brilliantly broken after forty-three minutes as Portland opened the scoring in acrobatic style; Greg Borthwick turning his body to connect with a floated cross and sending his spinning effort into the bottom corner for one-nil. However their visitors recovered brilliantly as Sam Pearce’s free kick was saved by Edgar, a chance that led to the equaliser as a recycled cross was flicked onto the back post; Pitman reacting quickest to the loose ball and stooping low to head inside the left corner as both sides were level at half time.
Buoyed by their equaliser Portchester came out quickly upon the 2nd half restart as a deep throw-in reached Marley Ridge just inside the penalty area, but his powerful effort from twelve yards didn’t really test Edgar. A further chance arrived on fifty-two minutes when a corner fell kindly to Pitman and the attacker’s driving shot was blocked with the rebound screwed wide by Harrison Brook at the back post; these two missed openings quickly punished by the home attack who re-established their single goal advantage just after the hour mark.
It was a brilliant finish as Ryan McKechnie collected the ball after great midfield passing and spun around his marker before placing a low effort past Mowthorpe, sparking huge celebrations as momentum switched back towards Portland. They almost made it three-one when Liam Sayers toe-poked a searching pass wide of the post with the Royals looking to stem this tide; making their 1st change as Robinson exited for George Barker in a change that nearly paid off, Pitman firing over the crossbar from eight yards from the winger’s low cross.
Sadly for the stubborn home side Pitman wasn’t to be denied for long as he brought Portchester level on 75 minutes with his second goal, converting an incisive forward pass into the bottom left corner under pressure from an outrushing Edgar. And after a sustained period of pressure that saw Jake Raine brush the post with a fine effort, the striker completed a hat-trick following an outstanding team move; multiple passes releasing an overlapping Connor Bailey whose perfect delivery was gleefully converted inside the right corner for 3-2.
This late goal sealed an eleventh win from twelve matches for Portchester, who now sit in first position above Bemerton Heath Harlequins who saw their away game postponed against United Services Portsmouth. This is a sharp contrast to their slow start in the 2021-22 campaign that ultimately cost a promotion challenge last season; something that the Royals will further look to avoid with two home games over the upcoming 7 days as they host Bournemouth Poppies on Tuesday evening and the visit of Alresford within the Wessex League.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL PHOTOGRAPHY: Away attacker breaks through the many challenges of Portland players in wet and windy conditions in Dorset on Saturday; the visitors sealing a late away success.