By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER strengthened their ongoing promotion credentials on Saturday afternoon as they beat visiting Shaftesbury three-nil at the On-Site Group Stadium; this result completing a league double over their mid-table opponents and extending the club’s unbeaten start to twenty-three matches so far. Yet again it was Brett Pitman who made the vital difference with goals in either half as the hosts set the tone in a comfortable display; the striker equalling a record of 38 league finishes during a single season with 17 games yet to play.
In overcast conditions Shaftesbury started the brighter and created an opening chance after just six minutes when Sam Bayston was played through on goal; the winger seeing his shot blocked by the outrushing home keeper Steven Mowthorpe. This paved the way for yet another threatening attack from the visitors as Ashley Pope played a long pass over three defenders and found the pacey Dom Panesar Dower in space; the right midfielder’s skidded effort blocked at source with the rebound screwed wide by Bayston from his tight angle.
After weathering this early storm Portchester regained control and saw a spell of neat possession that led to the first goal after twenty minutes; Liam Robinson tripped inside the penalty area by a late trailing tackle and the referee showed little hesitations in pointing to the spot. Pitman quickly stepped up for his 37th goal of the campaign and calmly sent the Shaftesbury keeper diving in an opposite way for an one-nil advantage, which was nearly doubled just before the half hour when Robinson broke down the right and saw an effort just over.
Shaftesbury nearly equalised on thirty-five minutes when Pope fed Bayston in the channels and his deflected cross fell to Liam Farruiga who dove harmlessly over. A period of stability for the Royals followed with Pitman and Marley Ridge going close in rapid succession as Scott Jones side-footed wide; Conor Bailey’s floated hit deflecting kindly to the gloves of the away keeper. The Royals’ defence did however suffer a scare in 1st half added time when a corner was only half cleared; Mowthorpe stopping Pope’s low shot after trapping this ball.
The hosts almost doubled their advantage soon after the restart as a ball was hooked into the right channels and Robinson collected; trading good possession with Ridge and Pitman with the latter firing just over on 49 minutes. But the hosts weren’t made to rue this missed opportunity when debutant Ryan Woodford played a deep pass forward and this was flicked into space by Pitman; Ridge running between the static backline and firing his shot into the far corner of the net for a handy 2-0 advantage as the proceedings passed 60 minutes.
In response Shaftesbury made multiple substitutions but lacked ideas against a drilled home defence despite much possession in attacking areas; their best opportunity to halve their arrears arriving when Bailey Rowe’s curling effort was deflected into the side netting from an angle in the sixty-eighth minute. Down the other end Portchester were looking dangerous when breaking as Pitman collected a pass and advanced forward with 2 away defenders backtracking; the striker sadly mishitting his drive wide and over to let down a good solo run.
A home substitution nearly made an immediate impact as the Royals looked to score their third goal; Charlie Williamson first forcing a save out of the away keeper before playing an inch-perfect cross to find Jones who fired over unbalanced in the middle. But the tie was over as a contest after 84 minutes with the killer flourish from Portchester, a midfielder taking control in the middle and feeding Pitman; the attacker taking one touch to kill the ball and slotting underneath the outrushing shot-stopper to make it 3-0 with the final notable action.
Dave Carter’s team have now won twenty-one matches out of 23 so far this season and sit a clear ten points above second place AFC Stoneham at the top; the sides scheduled to meet in an intriguing encounter on an artificial pitch next Saturday (11/02). The Royals’ attention however must turn to knockout action for Tuesday night as they travel to National League South side Farnborough in the rearranged Hampshire Senior Cup tie; the visitors hoping to avenge a two-nil loss to the same opponents last March at the “Easy as HGV” Stadium.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Portchester contingent celebrate one of their three goals as they calmly seal victory over Shaftesbury on Saturday afternoon; the Royals again extending their unbeaten league runs.