Royals continue perfect start at Christchurch

By Connor Steel

AFC PORTCHESTER maintained their perfect 100% start to the Wessex Premier campaign on Saturday as they travelled to the New Forest, comfortably beating Christchurch three-nil at the MA Hart Stadium to make it seven wins from seven matches so far. In truth though this margin of victory should have been much larger as Dave Carter’s team produced a brilliant performance throughout the ninety minutes, scoring all 3 goals in the 1st half before a quieter second period despite multiple opportunities as they never looked like losing it.

The Royals came out firing in the sunshine as they created their first chance after 6 minutes when they won a free kick; Ashton Leigh’s curling delivery narrowly missing the diving left foot of Ryan Wilkins low at the far post. Another opening came as Connor Bailey found some space down the wing and he picked out Harrison Brook, the youngster’s first time effort dipping just past the unguarded net for a goal kick on thirteen minutes; Leigh hitting the crossbar shortly afterwards with a free-kick that caught the strong winds from 40 yards out.

Away dominance saw them take the lead after 18 minutes as Elliot Wheeler knocked a ball into space, Brook taking control and sharing an one-two with Pitman whose effort nestled inside the posts via a slight deflection for one-nil. Charlie Williamson saw his header saved by Christchurch keeper Harry Dillon who further denied a powerful shot from Brook, Leigh curling another free kick wide from twenty-five yards on the half hour mark as the home side struggled to make inroads. This was despite Oliver Davis firing wide a shot on 31 minutes.

James Cowan appeared frustrated when his loud penalty appeal was turned down after 35 minutes, but this didn’t matter as Portchester doubled their advantage just 5 moments later as Wilkins headed home a corner from Leigh into the near post. And it soon got worse for Christchurch sixty seconds before the half time break when scores became 3-0, Pitman finding his teammate George Barker with a deft backheel. The winger then made no mistake as he broke through the home backline, creating space to calmly side-foot his shot home.

Christchurch started well after the interval with efforts from captain Eder Batista and Fawzi Saadi going close but were unable to really test Portchester goalkeeper Amad Skryzniaz in this mini-spell. The visiting side also looked dangerous down the other end as Pitman set up Barker to shoot over before the latter soon played in Brook, only for his shot to be saved smartly by Dillon at his near post. Substitutions then signalled a slight lull for both sides around the hour mark with the Royals in control, particularly in terms of attacking possessions.

These changes seemed to benefit the hosts as they looked to make a positive impression in their attack after absorbing most of the play, winning a series of corners that were well cleared by the away backline despite a header over from Chris Speers on 68 minutes. Right back Rafael Santos then flashed wide as Portchester’s players sought to reduce any threats of a comeback, which they did with a calming period of possession that ultimately knocked the momentum and saw a low shot by substitute Ryan Pennery drift into the side netting.

The final twelve minutes were simply dominated by Portchester as they looked to end with a late flourish as home legs tired; Cowan almost taking full advantage as he first shot wide from a Barker cut-back before his second attempt was deflected out for a corner down the left. And in one last chance in additional time saw Pennery firing wide from the edge of the box following a good passage of one-touch passing; the Royals settling for three goals and another welcome clean sheet as they kept pace with current leaders Bemerton.

Portchester remain second behind the Harlequins after seven games on goal difference, Dave Carter’s team now on their best ever Wessex League winning streak and remain one of the few sides across Step 5 to be unbeaten at this stage. Next up for the Royals is the rearranged fixture against Bemerton on Tuesday night, the original game postponed as a mark of respect following Queen Elizabeth II’s passing in early September; hosting Hythe & Dibden on Saturday. A week off then awaits the Royals before playing US Portsmouth away.

PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Christchurch defend a corner from Portchester under sunny skies in the New Forest, but are ultimately beaten three-nil by clinical first half performance in another big away victory.