Royals march forward with USP victory

By Connor Steel

AFC PORTCHESTER continued their outstanding 100% start to this Wessex League campaign by making it ten successive victories and put their midweek cup loss behind them on Saturday, beating local rivals United Services Portsmouth (USP) three-one with a professional away performance at Burnaby Road. And in truth it was a hugely deserved win as two goals by Brett Pitman set the Royals on their way before an even second half saw both teams score goals; the damages already done from the visitors who stay at the league summit.

The hosts started in attacking mode under lovely city skies as Bradley Norton sliced over the crossbar after 5 minutes, whilst former-Portchester striker Lamin Jatta was denied by away keeper Anad Skryniaz at his near post moments later. In response the Royals seemed to settle themselves down with a great passage of play that led to their first chance in the thirteenth minute, Liam Robinson playing a looped cross onto the head of Jake Raine at the back post who nodded wide under pressure; neither side making any early breakthroughs.

From this point on Portchester asserted their quality and took the lead after 30 minutes following an injury for the hosts, which saw Vinnie McGee replace Harvey Aston within central midfield. The opener arrived when a throw-in down the right found George Barker in space and his effort was saved by home goalkeeper Charlie Shepard, falling kindly to the feet of Pitman who slid home into the corner; a lead that was nearly doubled as James Cuowan created space in the area only to curl wide of the post with arguably better options to his right.

Another effort from Cowan was straight at Shepard on thirty-three minutes, but it wasn’t long before the away side doubled their advantage. Barker was again involved as he received a long pass in midfield and released Pitman down the channels, with the striker easily slotting home under the keeper into the bottom corner for a two-nil lead. And this was how it stayed at the interval despite openings for a third; the Royals seeing Pitman head wide after Harrison Brook’s effort was recycled, Barker also flashing over the bar within additional time.

USP resumed with a series of corners that ultimately led to Portchester’s third goal as Skryiniarz collected a cross and played a long pass forward to Brook, who dinked his shot over the home keeper inside the bottom left off the post on 47 minutes.  He came close to adding to this tally when he linked up with Barker in space, but sadly miscued his low effort against the defender under pressure; Dave Carter making a substitute when Connor Bailey was withdrawn for Ryan Pennery in a surprising attacking move given their 3-goal advantage.

But this perfect afternoon for the Royals was tainted as they conceded after the hour when a delivery by Ash Thompson was dropped in mid-air and fell to Simon Woods; the ex-Fareham hotshot making simply no error in tapping home at the back post to reduce arrears. But USP were unable to create any attacking momentum in order to raise hopes of a comeback, with Portchester going close through Pitman on sixty-nine minutes as the striker pulled his angled shot wide from 25 yards and then heading wide a deep cross just moments later.

Substitutes followed for both outfits in the final fifteen minutes as the game seemed to be drifting towards the inevitable conclusion, Portchester still dominating the ball in-between stoppages for both changes and cramp injuries. But the away side almost scored their fourth goal on 88 minutes as quick two-touch passing reached the right foot of Brook, his through-pass reaching Pennery who calmly fired inside the side netting via a slight deflection off the defender; not that this mattered as the referee soon confirmed another Royals away victory.

Maximum points from their ten games ensure the Royals remain ahead of Bemerton Heath Harlequins in the current table, with their next league game seeing them travel to title challengers Horndean on October 25. In the meantime however attentions must turn to knockout cup action with huge games this week; Portchester’s next encounter being a visit of Brockenhurst on Tuesday evening in the Russell Coates Cup before they host Phoenix Sports in the FA Vase First Round proper next Saturday (October 22) kicking off promptly from 3pm.

PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Brett Pitman scores one of his two finishes as the experienced attacker helps Portchester to their tenth straight success, beating United Services Portsmouth 3-1 away on Saturday.