By Connor Steel
AFC PORTCHESTER continued their unbeaten start to the new 2023-24 campaign and progressed to the FA Cup First Qualifying Round for the first time since 2017 after completing a record breaking away win over Tadley Calleva; beating the Combined County League opponents eight-one under lovely summer skies at Barlows Park on Saturday afternoon.
Although Tadley began better and had Alexander Fragata slice inches over shortly after kick-off, it was Portchester who scored first after ten minutes; Josh Benfield collecting a loose ball in the final third and slotting past home keeper Craig Atkinson. Lee Wort and Harrison Brook then saw quickfire openings blocked at source with James Cowan driving wide.
The dominant visitors did get their second goal after a long injury stoppage on twenty-one minutes; Cowan whipping an in-swinging corner that sailed through the busy penalty area and nestled over the line. In response Fragata did his best to drive Tadley forward in attack and his pass matched the run of Jack French, who scuffed his shot that rolled far wide.
The Royals pressed for further goals after the half hour mark and got their rewards when Wort made it three-nil after 41 minutes; the striker linking up with Benfield from a throw-in and expertly curled home past the stranded Atkinson. And a fourth goal arrived in stoppage time as Marley Ridge cut the ball into space before teeing up Wort, who rocketed home.
Dave Carter’s team kept up their momentum upon the restart and were given a penalty as Fatah Makhloufi was tugged in the area; Wort converting this spot-kick into the right corner to make it five-nil and confirmed his hat-trick. But to their credit Tadley never gave up and did get a goal back on fifty-eight minutes; Adam Hargood easily scoring from an angle.
Dreams of an impossible comeback were quashed straight from kick-off as a good ball was played into Wort, who spun his defender and lobbed an effort high past Atkinson from forty yards into the top left corner for 6-1. This became seven on sixty-eight minutes when George Barker chased a ball on the left side before finding Benfield who powerfully netted.
Substitutes followed across both sides as proceedings hit a lengthy lull with the tie already over as a meaningful match; Tadley seeing a number of corners to no avail as the away defence stood firm. There was still time for one final goal on eighty-two minutes for the Royals through Benfield, who completed his own treble as he converted Mason Crane’s ball.
Progressing past both FA Cup Preliminary rounds marks improvement for the Royals, who will find out their next ‘stage’ opponents on Monday with the match due to be played on September 2. In the meantime they will travel to Fawley in a regional competition on Tuesday evening before hosting league rivals Cowes Sports in a FA Vase clash next Saturday.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Lee Wort sees a shot on target as he scores four goals in win over Tadley Calleva.