By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER rose to the Wessex League summit as they finally ended the winning streak of former leaders Bemerton Heath Harlequins on Tuesday night, making it eight wins out of eight themselves in a two one victory at the On-Site Group Stadium. And it was a majestic advert for non-league football in front of 552 supporters with red cards shown to both sides, before a late stoppage time winner from Jake Raine ensured eruptions around the stadium as the heavyweight match looked to be heading for an equal one-all stalemate.
The Royals started in full throttle and saw their first chance after four minutes with Liam Robinson firing over from 25 yards out, whilst Bemerton keeper Patrick Creese was quick to deny Brett Pitman’s low shot at point blank range; the striker further screwing a header wide under pressure on eight minutes. But huge pressures did tell on thirteen minutes as the hosts took the lead as good build-up passing found Marley Ridge in space; the youngster making no mistake in firing a shot across the keeper into the right corner for the early 1-0 lead.
Bemerton almost equalised immediately on the seventeenth minute as Ronan Clancy was found through on goal with the striker firing wide under close attentions from Conor Bailey tracking back; George Higgins then shooting straight at Portchester keeper Amadeusz Skrzyniarz who saved comfortably. These away chances sandwiched a new opportunity for the hosts to double their advantage on 23 minutes with Bailey involved in attacking areas; his cross eventually reaching Pitman to hit a low curling shot narrowly wide of the near post.
Ridge then went close to doubling his tally on thirty-four minutes through a free kick after Pitman was fouled, his effort seeing Creese scrambling across his goalline as the ball ultimately drifted wide of the posts. Bailey then linked up with Robinson down the left and saw an effort blocked at source, whilst a deep cross into the corridor of uncertainty was missed by the sliding legs of Pitman and Raine following a recycled corner on 42 minutes; Bemerton having three corners in additional time safely cleared away as the half time whistle blew.
The visitors came out firing after the interval with a spell of solid possession and saw the next opening on 53 minutes when a cross was only partially cleared, falling kindly to Reece Rusher who placed his shot over the bar. This was a chance that Bemerton didn’t rue missing as they equalised on the hour mark when a throw-in reached Huggins in a pocket, the midfielder sending a low side-footed drive home into the bottom left corner. And the visitors received another boost when Aston Leigh was sent off for a scuffle after a tackle on halfway.
10-men Portchester were fortunate on sixty-seven minutes when a corner from the right was perfectly placed on the head of Steve Walker who nodded straight at Skrzyniarz; Pitman’s near post delivery leading to Ridge who flicked wide with a bouncing effort down the other end. Seventy one minutes saw Ryan Wilkins fire wide with a powerful effort from a corner before another big let off for the hosts with twelve left to play, their keeper heading a long ball into the path of a striker whose lobbed effort had to be stopped from hitting an empty net.
There was another twist on eighty-seven minutes as Bemerton were reduced to ten men with Walker seeing red for a misjudged tackle down the wing; levelling up players on the pitch alongside a late one-all scoreline. This gave Portchester the impetus that they didn’t let slip as their winner came in additional time with Raine controlling a pass and firing home off the bar inside the left corner for two-one to silence the away fans, two substitutes and the restart proving not enough time as the hosts sealed 3 points from this thrilling encounter.
Dave Carter’s team are now the only team with a perfect 100% record in the Wessex League and will look to continue this to maintain a potential promotion push into the Southern League Division One, their only defeat coming versus Sholing in the FA Cup back in August. But the Royals cannot get complacent with very tough league and cup matches to come over the next fortnight as they host Hythe & Dibden on Saturday afternoon before facing two postcode derbies; hosting Baffins Milton Rovers on 12/10 and travelling to US Portsmouth.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Raine calmly slots home his last gasp winner against Bemerton Heath Harlequins on Tuesday night as the Royals rise to the summit of Wessex League table after eight matches.