By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER bounced back brilliantly from last weekend’s Stoneham defeat in style on Saturday as they travelled across to Bournemouth Poppies; beating the hosts five-two in an entertaining Wessex Premier tie at Victoria Park. Yet again it was Brett Pitman who made a key difference in an attacking encounter on the Dorset coast as the experienced striker broke a club goalscoring record in the process of scoring yet another hat trick; his three finishes coming at important times against a hardworking team looking to end a losing run.
Under grey skies the visitors started quickly and saw the opening chance arrive after nine minutes as Pitman played a brilliant pass to Scott Jones who sliced his shot just wide of the post under pressure; James Cowan driving over the crossbar seconds later. Undeterred the Royals continued to push and were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty on sixteen minutes when Ryan Wilkins went down in the box following a tackle; all visiting players and supporters frustrated by the referee as proceedings seemed to settle down after this frantic start.
But it was actually Bournemouth who took the lead after eighteen minutes with their first attack; Kyle Graham reacting quickest to a pass and nestling home his shot past Mowthorpe inside the bottom right corner for 1-0. The lead didn’t last sixty seconds with the away side equalising in response through Jones, who converted a rasping driven shot from a corner to level the scores at one-all after twenty minutes; the striker nearly adding to his tally after nodding Cowan’s floated free kick off the far left post with the home keeper beaten for power.
Pitman showed his class on twenty-seven minutes as he gave Portchester the lead with his thunderous effort inside the top left corner from thirty yards out to make it two-one; a lead that was extended after the half hour when Curt Da Costa easily headed home a corner from close range to make it 3-1. And this stayed the same at the half-time interval despite Bournemouth having one goal disallowed for offside alongside more chances for the away side; Pitman going closer with a header before George Barker’s skidded shot was deflected out.
To their credit Bournemouth weren’t going down without a fight and reduced their deficits within four minutes of the restart; a deep corner somehow being bundled inside the net at the back stick by Kyle Graham for his second goal of the afternoon. This gave the Poppies a boost of confidence as they pushed for their equaliser with Sami Garcia forcing a comfortable save from away goalkeeper Steven Mowthorpe at the far post before Graham missed an opportunity to score a hat trick on 59 minutes with a tamely hit header from a tight angle.
Dave Carter made two fast substitutions after the hour mark in a bid to halt this home momentum with Conor Bailey and Marley Ridge entering the play, these changes helping to settle Portchester with a spell of intense midfield possession. This gave them a platform to attack a tiring home defence and the visitors reaped these rewards on sixty-eight minutes with their fourth goal; Charlie Williamson nipping onto a pass and smashing a curling shot off the crossbar with Pitman gratefully converting this rebound home to make the score four-two.
Gloss was added to the scoreline just three minutes later when Pitman confirmed his hat-trick and a fifth goal of the afternoon for Portchester; Ridge’s low pass finding the striker and he made little mistakes in firing past the goalkeeper at the second attempt. This was his 42nd finish of this 2022-23 campaign across all domestic competitions and broke the previous club record for an individual season; which nearly became goal 43 after a lull as he headed wide from a corner on 88 minutes and dragged harmlessly over the bar in stoppage time.
Yet another victory means Portchester stay 4 points clear of second placed Stoneham following other results on Saturday; Horndean staying third after a comprehensive five-nil score versus Cowes Sports on the Isle of Wight. The Royals face a busy fortnight in their promotion push with three home matches against Laverstock & Ford, Portland United and also strugglers Pagham within just seven days; their next scheduled away game seeing them making the journey to face Fareham Town on March 4 in their El-Creekio derby at Cams Alders.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Pitman celebrates with his teammates in Bournemouth as they dispatch the league strugglers despite conceding double; staying top of the Wessex League with another three points.