AFC Portchester 2 Horndean 1
As wins go this was massive for AFC Portchester as they overcame the challenge of local rivals Horndean in the wind and the rain at the Crest Finance Stadium.
It is one of many huge tests the Royals are going to have to pass if they are going to achieve their aims of promotion this season.
And on Saturday they proved to those watching that they possessed the necessary skills to battle back from going behind and then holding on to their lead against strong opposition and in the face of the deteriorating weather conditions.
It was certainly a spicy derby encounter between two sides desperate to be at the top end of the table, and tackles were flying in during the opening exchanges as both sides looked to gain the upper hand.
Portchester went close to breaking the deadlock after only seven minutes when a ball from the left was allowed to run into the path of Nathan Paxton on the edge of the area.
He tried to guide his first time shot past Lloyd Thomas but the keeper had rushed off his line to be able to make a point blank save with his body.
Portchester had another good opportunity nine minutes later when a forward ball was nodded down into the path of Alex Baldacchino on the edge of the box.
He managed to fire off a shot which went just over the top but he was taken out by a defender just after getting his shot away. Ellis Martin curled the resulting free kick around the Horndean wall but his effort went straight into Thomas’ gloves.
Horndean’s first attack of note came after 23 minutes when Tanatswa Kajanda got forward after breaking up a home attack. He rolled the ball across the edge of the penalty area into the path of Ben Anderson but he smashed his shot into the side netting.
The home side went closer still to scoring on 31 minutes when Martin’s in-swinging corner almost caught Thomas out at his near post but the keeper managed to get across his line in time to prevent the ball from going into the net.
Five minutes later a throw in on the right was worked to Dan Wooden inside the penalty area but he screwed his first time volley wide.
Horndean almost broke the deadlock at the other end when Connor Duffin picked up the ball from a throw in on the left and hit a shot which almost swerved past Brad Snelling but the keeper recovered his position quickly enough to block the ball with his legs.
From the next attack, Tafadzwa Kajanda got clear of Jack Barker inside the penalty area and pulled a low cross back across the six yard box but the ball rolled the wrong side of Sam Hookey in front of goal.
Portchester threatened again five minutes before half time when a quick free kick found Paxton and spotting Thomas off his line, he tried to chip the ball over the keeper but the shot dropped over the top.
The visitors took the lead a minute before the interval after good build up play down the right saw a pass slipped inside the penalty area to send Anderson clear of the home defence. After picking up the ball he had the time to hit a low shot across Snelling and into the far corner of the net.
Portchester had another opening before the half time whistle following a throw in on the left. The first shot was charged down by a defender and the ball rolled to Steve Ramsey but he pulled his shot wide of the target.
Horndean were almost gifted a second goal six minutes into the second half when Tafadzwa Kajanda’s low cross skidded into the near post area. The ball bounced off Snelling and hit a defender before rolling back into the grateful keeper’s hands.
Portchester levelled the scores on 55 minutes when the ball was worked to Baldacchino from a throw in on the right. The home striker then rolled past his marker before hitting a low shot past Thomas and into the far corner of the net.
The Royals didn’t have to wait long to get their second goal when the visitors failed to deal with a throw in from the left four minutes later.
Good work from Wooden saw the home side win possession inside the box and he passed the ball inside to Paxton who fired the ball home through Thomas’ legs from six yards out.
Although the match had started in dry conditions, the rain was now pouring down at this stage and conditions were getting very slippery under foot.
On 61 minutes, Baldacchino was sent racing clear of the Horndean defence but Thomas raced out to get to the ball before him.
Two minutes later Horndean should have been level. Dan Sackman’s cross-field pass picked out an unmarked Alfie Lis who had a free header on goal but he lost track of his position and guided the ball wide rather than into the net.
On 69 minutes some desperate defending by Portchester ensured Horndean didn’t snatch an equaliser. An inswinging corner was partially knocked clear by Snelling and the visitors tried three times to force the ball home from close range but defenders blocked the goal-bound ball on each occasion.
Horndean were doing all the pressing in the closing stages but they were finding it difficult to set up clear cut chances in the difficult conditions.
On 74 minutes a throw in on the right picked out substitute Harry Jackson, who helped the ball inside to Lis but his low shot from 15 yards out slid wide of the target.
Horndean’s miserable end to the afternoon was completed and their chances of staging a late comeback evaporated with ten minutes remaining when they were suddenly reduced to nine men.
Jack Maloney was given his marching orders after receiving two yellow cards in close succession for two bad-looking tackles. Ash Howes was then sent to the sin bin for his protests to the referee, who also then showed a yellow card to Deans boss Michael Birmingham.
With two minutes remaining the home side should have added their third goal when the ball was worked to Wooden following good build up play but from inside the penalty area his shot flew just wide of the far post.
GOALS: Alex Baldacchino (55 mins), Nathan Paxton (59 mins)
LINE-UP: Brad Snelling, Jack Barker, Liam Bush, Rob Evans, Ellis Martin, Olly Searle, Nathan Paxton (replaced by Adam Cripps on 89 mins), Steve Ramsey, Jason Parish, Alex Baldacchino, Dan Wooden.
SUBS NOT USED: Jordan Brooks, Brodie Spencer, Owen Fee, Stuart McConnachie.