Royals maintain league gap in Badgers win

By Connor Steel

AFC PORTCHESTER extended their remarkable opening to the Wessex Premier Division as they beat rivals Brockenhurst away from home on Saturday afternoon, winning four-two against the Badgers at the Meadens Skoda Arena to remain eleven points ahead of second place Horndean following recent results. It sealed the 15th victory from sixteen league games for the Royals who didn’t have their own way on a tricky pitch; losing two-one at the break before scoring three goals in the second period to clinch yet another deserved success.

The Royals adapted quicker to a bobbly surface and created their first opening within seventy seconds when Scott Jones headed straight at Brockenhurst goalkeeper Brad Snelling; striker Brett Pitman driving an angled shot over the crossbar. In response the home side had a spell of neat possession and saw a number of free-kicks in dangerous positions cleared away from the away backline; Curt Da Costa performing a solid block to deny Kieran O’Donnell’s goal-bound effort after a brilliant run and pass from Alex Haynes down the left wing.

Brockenhurst were buoyed by this great opportunity and cancelled out their opponents within midfield, taking the lead after twenty-two minutes with their next notable attack; O’Donnell breaking through away defenders and placing the ball low past Portchester keeper Steven Mowthorpe into the bottom right corner for 1-0. This advantage was nearly doubled before the half hour as Harvey Wood was played through on goal but slipped whilst taking his effort, Mowthorpe gratefully clutching the low skidding ball on the ground with relative ease.

After thirty-three minutes the visitors nearly levelled as a deep corner from the left was headed wide by Elliot Wheeler at the back post; an opportunity that wasn’t rued when Portchester scored on their next set-piece as Da Costa tapped home a cross by James Cowan. But Brockenhurst weren’t finished and re-took their narrow lead just two minutes before the half time break; Oliver Dennett breaking away inside the eighteen yard area before calmly slotting home into the corner via a slight deflection that deceived the diving Mowthorpe for 2-1.

Dave Carter seemed to make a positional change at the interval and this pushed his outfit forward as Pitman was unlucky to see another away goal disallowed for offside within seven minutes of the restart, the attacker also going closer with another curling drive. This frantic  pressure finally resulted in a reward after fifty-seven minutes when Portchester levelled for a second time as Sam Pearce advanced forward and played a perfect delivery into the path of Pitman, who was quickest in the air and simply nodded home inside the right corner.

Home substitutions followed as proceedings passed the hour with no further incidents, the away side staying patient in possession as artificial lightning took full effect and rain started to fall. Brockenhurst then suffered a blow as O’Donnell went off suffering from a slight knock, a moment that seemed to apply more pressure for a tiring home defence and Portchester made this count; taking their deserved lead after seventy minutes when Liam Robinson and Conor Bailey linked up to allow Jones extra space to sweep home from twelve yards out.

This finish knocked the stuffing out of Brockenhurst but to their credit denied any immediate momentum from the visitors, seeing a deep free kick cleared multiple times before George Pomeroy and Enrique Russell both went close with differing half-chances. But it was the visitors who scored the vital fourth goal during stoppage time after Pitman had a powerful effort blocked at source; a poor pass intercepted by Jones who ran through on goal and smashed his shot low past Snelling to seal the four-two success with the final noteworthy action.

Portchester’s sixth successive victory means their eleven point gap over nearest challengers Horndean, who have leapfrogged Bemerton Heath Harlequins into second following other results from Saturday afternoon. It is a lead that could close on Wednesday evening when fellow league teams play games in hand; the leaders having a week off before hosting AFC Stoneham at the On-Site Group Stadium on Saturday. The Royals will then travel to the Isle of Wight seven days later on December 10 for the reverse league game versus Cowes.

PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Away players celebrate scoring 1 of three second half goals at Meadens Skoda Arena on Saturday afternoon; their four-two victory maintaining an eleven point gap at league summit.