Royals clinch final spot with narrow Stoneham victory

By Connor Steel

AFC PORTCHESTER guaranteed their spot in the Velocity Wessex League Cup “final” as they hosted high-flying rivals AFC Stoneham on Saturday afternoon; eventually clinching their narrow one-nil success after this nervy and tight ‘semi final’ encounter watched by over two hundred fans at the On-Site Group Stadium following its mid-week postponement.

The home team adjusted better on a bobbly surface and created their first opportunity after eight minutes through Brett Williams; whose low effort was brilliantly saved by visiting keeper Callum Lee. This was followed by an effort by Charlie Williamson going wide after he was put through on goal whilst James Cowan drilled over the bar in the fifteenth minute.

Stoneham however worked themselves into these proceedings and could have netted with their first ‘meaningful’ attack in the eighteenth minute; a corner resulting in a scramble that saw Ben Clarke and Josh Batt denied on the line. In their response Portchester saw Conor Bailey’s set piece catch the wind and moved towards goal; only denied by the keeper.

This momentum swung around as Duarte Martins was seemingly fouled trying to sprint round home goalkeeper Steven Mowthorpe only for the referee to turn down the huge appeals; Ash Pope following up with a low shot past the left stick. Down the other end there was a chance for Williams and Bailey before half time, which arrived with this score goalless.

Play restarted with Stoneham dominating the early second half openings; Martins heading wide from Ryan Cluett’s set-piece delivery before the striker drove into the side netting on fifty-three minutes. But it was the Royals who went closer on the hour mark when incisive interplay set up Harrison Brook and he advanced towards goal before lashing just over.

Dave Carter’s side broke the deadlock after seventy-three minutes when a neat pass was converted inside the far right corner by Brook; the moment met with a jubilant scene around the stadium. But these feelings soon turned into a nervy energy mere moments later when Ryan Woodward was sent off for a second yellow after cheaply kicking the ball away.

Substitutions followed as Williams’ shot was denied by Lee in Portchester’s final opportunity; Stoneham pushing for the leveller in the last stages and had multiple chances to level the tie with Pope’s low drive brilliantly saved on 91 minutes. There was also a late penalty appeal for handball and a flurry of great crosses, but the Royals held out for the cup final.

Downton or Hamble Club will await in the final and this is planned to be held in early May; as will the Hampshire Senior Cup final between Portchester and AFC Totton (in Aldershot). Attention must however turn back to the league action as they have a hectic fortnight with five games; playing Brockenhurst, Petersfield, Stoneham and two against Andover NS.

PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Stoneham defenders try their best to prevent effort on target from Royals’ attacker.