Owen Fee fires AFC Portchester to victory as race at the top heats up
AFC Portchester ramped up the pressure at the top of the Wessex Premier Division with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Shaftesbury.
Their fourth successive away victory moved the Royals up to third spot with games in hand on the top two.
Portchester were also boosted by leaders Alresford drawing 1-1 at Christchurch and two other top six sides - Portland and Hamble Club - also drawing.
That means the Royals are now just seven points adrift of Alresford, but with three games in hand.
And Alresford are due to visit the Crest Finance Stadium on December 28.
Manager Mick Catlin praised the ability of his side to grind out a result in unfavourable conditions.
‘We had to play on a terrible pitch that was badly cut up,’ he reported.
‘It was difficult to play a passing game, so we had to dig in and tough it out.
‘We knew it wasn't going to be easy against big, physical opponents.
‘Playing against teams in the bottom half is always tricky and you can often slip-up against them.
‘We defended really well for our second consecutive clean sheet.
‘That was something that we weren't doing earlier in the season.
‘Also, we took our chance when it came along to score the vital goal.
‘In fact, we could easily have had a few more after that.’
The only goal arrived in the 59th-minute and was scored by Owen Fee, who cut in from the left-hand side and curled a terrific shot into the top corner.
Substitute George Murage went close to extending the lead, firing two close-range shots against the goalkeeper's chest before rifling his third attempt over the crossbar.
Catlin is not getting carried away, however, despite recent wins at Amesbury, Fareham, Bournemouth and now Shaftesbury boosting the Royals’ chances of a first-ever Wessex League title.
‘It remains very tight at the top with only four points between third and 10th,’ he said.
‘We have got ourselves into a good position.
‘Our next two games against Horndean and Alresford will shape how we head into the new year.’
January could also be a defining month with three other matches against teams in the top seven - at home to Stoneham (January 11) and Lymington (January 25) and away to Christchurch (January 18).