Portchester snatch share of Stoneham points

By Connor Steel / Photograph by Daniel Haswell

AFC PORTCHESTER stretched their unbeaten run in September to five games, but were forced to settle for a home point versus AFC Stoneham on Saturday afternoon.

Hotshot striker Keiron Roberts got the equaliser for the Royals as ghosts threatened to haunt the home crowd; their ex-player Callum Laycock scoring a 59th minute opener for the Purples before the leveller that keeps Portchester in mid-table as preparations turn to huge cup ties over the next seven days.

In extremely hot weather for September at the On-Site Group Stadium, which may have been the reason for a slow opening ten minutes. Portchester did have the majority of possession but were missing the running of Lee Wort, who was away on holiday alongside other injuries and suspensions across the home squad. The first chances fell the way of Portchester as Marley Ridge cut inside, but saw his curling effort comfortably saved by Stoneham goalkeeper Tom Parker-Trott on 12 minutes; before a low shot from Joe Briggs floated harmlessly wide of the far post moments later.

Stoneham saw their opening chance come after 23 minutes and was definitely the best one of the entire first half. From a set piece Duarte Martins latched onto a flick from Laycock inside the Portchester area, only to see his powerful drive palmed away for a corner by Steve Mowthorpe diving to his right hand side. Further half chances came from Diego Romero and Jake Thomson for the visitors in quick, before Portchester settled down with a good spell of possession.

But for all their probing passing and wing-play, the hosts were being denied at every opportunity despite determined defensive blocks from Roberts and Briggs’ shots before the break. This meant that frustration was building as the Royals struggled to break through, with the referee taking the brunt of anger for denying free kicks for clumsy tackles on Roberts playing as a lone centre forward. A few choice words were said but surprising no bookings from the officials, who simply let the game flow and blew the whistle for the half time break shortly afterwards ending an even half with no goals for either side.

The Royals were forced into a half time change as injured right-back George Colson was injured and was replaced by teenager Harvey Ashton, which seemed to give Stoneham the confidence to attack that side in the second period. The visitors started brightly as Will Wiseman fired over and Roman Galloway headed wide a corner, with their next clear-cut chance coming after 57 minutes. Two former Royals combined as Thomson found Laycock unmarked at the far post, but home keeper Mowthorpe was out quickly to block the angled shot from seven yards and the ball was cleared away.

But Portchester didn’t heed the warning signals and fell behind just before the hour mark as Stoneham finished a good attacking move. Left-back Tom Unsworth crossed a fine delivery to the back post, which was headed back across goal by Martins; the ball rolling across to Laycock who couldn’t miss from a few yards out as he slotted home and celebrated with his teammates. It was a goal that drew criticism from home manager Dave Carter, who perhaps felt the danger could have been averted in the midfield area.

But the Portchester boss was arguably delighted with the team’s response to falling behind as Roberts went close to an immediate equaliser three minutes later; collecting an Ashton pass only to fire over the crossbar from 12 yards out. Moments later, Zak Sharp and Aaron McCreadie saw efforts blocked at source; with Carter making two immediate changes as the clock ticked down. Ex-Portsmouth striker Ashley Harris replaced Briggs whilst Lamin Jatta took George Barker’s position, which seemed to change the game with 15 minutes left to play and Portchester were facing another home league defeat following a 2-1 loss to Brockenhurst back on Bank Holiday Weekend.

The pace of Jatta was evidently causing issues against the Stoneham backline, with the striker winning the free kick that drew an eighty-fourth minute equaliser. The delivery from Ashton into a crowded penalty area was met by the rising Roberts, who simply powered home his header inside the near post; sparking relieved celebrations amongst the majority of fans in attendance. But more importantly it was the striker’s 14th goal in just 12 matches this season, continuing a brilliant run of form into some huge games upcoming.

Both sides could have won the game late as chances for Roberts and Jatta went close in the final minutes, whilst Stoneham had a goal ruled out by the linesman in stoppage tie. But in fairness the stalemate was the fairest result and this was confirmed with the referee’s whistle; an outcome that both managers seemed to be happy with as neither side deserved to lose the match. With this point the Royals sit 13th in the table after seven matches, although they have played fewer games than those around them.

Portchester will now face New Milton Town at home on Tuesday night in the Hampshire Senior Cup with a 7:45pm kick off time, before travelling to Moneyfields for their mouth-watering FA Vase tie on Saturday afternoon (September 25). The Royals’ next Wessex League Premier game is scheduled for September 28 against Horndean, hoping to beat a high-flying side who will be up there at the end of this season.