By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER extended their perfect 2024 record to six matches and advanced into the ‘semi final’ stage of the Wessex League Cup as they hosted Folland Sports on Tuesday evening; narrowly winning two-one against their “lower division” opponents in a closely fought quarter final encounter under clear but cold skies at the On-Site Group Stadium.
The Royals began brightly and saw multiple chances to score within the opening 10 minutes; Scott Jones dragging just wide of the sticks and Issiaga Kaba seeing his effort blocked at source shortly afterwards. But Folland were celebrating before the fifteen minute mark as their striker converted a ball from the right side, placing his shot under Charlie Searle.
Folland were buoyed by their opener and saw a few corners before Portchester came back into the proceedings; Jones nodding his header over the crossbar and James Cowan curling a free-kick wide of goal. And they were soon rewarded for their efforts as Marley Ridge lashed home a great cut-back from Liam Robinson inside the bottom corner for one-all.
The turnaround was completed on thirty-one minutes as Jones linked up with Robinson on the left and sent a low effort past the Folland shot-stopper, who further denied Harrison Brook and Robinson in separate attacks. There were further openings and set-pieces for the hosts before half time but this score stayed at two-one as the away defence stood firm.
Dave Carter’s team appeared to push higher up the pitch upon the second half and this nearly paid its dividends on 48 minutes when Jones won the ball in a dangerous position; the striker setting up Ridge to slice inches wide. In response Folland saw multiple attacks stopped by an excellent home defence including Searle, who was ‘assured’ in possession.
Substitutions did nothing to stop Portchester from dominating the possession and then the chances; Brook side-footing very wide of their target and Archie Wilcox heading straight at the keeper after 65 minutes. This was followed by a drive from Cowan flicking the crossbar after fast interplay on the edge of the Folland area whilst a free kick was parried wide.
To their credit Folland didn’t give up and had their best chance to equalise after seventy-six minutes; a low pass by the right bouncing to their striker who struck harmlessly wide. Down the other end there were opportunities for the hosts to extend their ‘lead’ in additional time; substitutions Connor Bailey and George Barker going close as their team held out.
Portchester will join AFC Stoneham and two other sides in the last four with their opponents / dates not yet known, but it signals progress after a difficult period in the competition over recent campaigns. They face another quarter-final this weekend as they host Alton in the Hampshire Senior Cup this weekend before travelling across to Hythe next Tuesday.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Home players celebrate one of their two goals under clear skies on Tuesday night.