By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER continued their runaway pursuit of a promotion from the Wessex Premier as they beat Portland United after an intriguing encounter at the On-Site Group Stadium, thrashing the visitors four-one in front of over three hundred supporters. But this final score-line arguably doesn’t reflect the full match with the Blues frustrating their hosts throughout an even first half; the Royals showing their qualities in the 2nd period as they scored three goals at regular intervals to capitalise upon a slight slip up by second placed Stoneham.
The Royals started quickly and nearly took the lead after 35 seconds when Scott Jones burst inside the area to set up Brett Pitman; Portland keeper Mike Edgar saving the striker’s low header with his leg before further denying George Barker’s effort just moments later. The spurned opportunities were rued just nine minutes in with Portland scoring their first attack of the afternoon as Bailey Rowe advanced down the left side; reaching Jack Delves and the debutant made simply no mistake in drilling past Steven Mowthorpe at his far right post.
Undeterred by the setback Portchester continued to threaten in the attacking third as Jones and Pitman went close with varied efforts, Conor Bailey proving crucial with some difficult crosses into the danger area. One of these deliveries led to the equaliser for the hosts on twenty-two minutes when Marley Ridge controlled a fine ball from the left back, exchanged passes with Barker, and then fired home into the bottom corner for one-all; a nasty injury seeing Elliott Wheeler stretchered off to be switched with Harrison Brook after initial treatment.
This stoppage did not stop the attacking momentum from either side as Portchester went close to completing a turnaround with an opening after thirty-four minutes; Charlie Williamson’s whipped delivery finding Bailey at the back post to fire narrowly wide of goal. Down the other end Matt Harvey found Liam Sayers on the turn in the channels and the striker fed an incisive pass into the feet of their captain Ryan McKechnie; the onrushing attacker scuffing his driven shot into the gloves of Mowthorpe from the tightest of angles to conclude the half.
Dave Carter’s team came firing out upon the restart and did take the lead within just fifty-eight seconds of the second period as Barker joined forces with Pitman; the winger stroking past Edgar with a simple finish before he celebrated alongside his colleagues. This goal gave the home outfit a deserved two-one advantage and it may have been extended as Ridge headed wide from a cross by Bailey on fifty-four minutes; an opening that seemed to spark Portland into life with two chances as Harvey dragged wide and McKechnie sliced just over.
James Cowan replaced Steve Ramsey on the hour mark and this appeared to build a perfect balance for the midfield that helped Portchester add their third goal after sixty-nine minutes. It came from persistent pressing play from Ridge who worked the ball into the path of Barker and the winger cut inside before sending a bullet into the corner for 3-1; Portland responding with two substitutions of their own and creating a half opportunity when Brin Doyle linked up with Hayden Scott before placing his effort harmlessly wide from twenty yards out.
Tiring legs seemed to dampen Portland’s dreams of a late comeback with proceedings drifting away from the visitors; Portchester winning a series of set pieces that were all cleared by the spirited away defence. Charlie Searle almost netted off the bench as he shot straight at Edgar who also denied an effort from Ridge after 87 minutes; the away keeper sadly unable to stop a fourth goal in stoppage time. A curling free kick skidded into the chest of Edgar and fell kindly to Pitman, who tapped his rebound into the bottom left to confirm a 4-1 win.
The Royals’ third straight victory helped them extend a substantial advantage over Stoneham as the nearest challengers failed to win at home versus Baffins Milton Rovers on Saturday; this gap currently six points with a game in hand as Horndean and Bemerton Heath Harlequins stay level on points for third. A busy two week period does await Portchester however as they catch up on previously postponed ties; Pagham, Hamble and Moneyfields visiting the On-Site Group Stadium alongside a reverse El-Creekio derby match at Cams Alders.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Home attacker wheels away in celebration after scoring one of the three goals throughout the second half as Portchester beat Portland on Saturday, extending their league title lead.