Prolific Alex Baldacchino could make long-awaited AFC Portchester injury return at Bournemouth Poppies
AFC Portchester could be on the verge of welcoming back striker Alex Baldacchino.
The pint-sized forward has been sidelined for nearly 18 months with a knee injury.
Royals boss Mick Catlin is enthusiastic about having him back in the ranks to go alongside the likes of Dan Wooden and Jason Parish.
His last game was the Wessex League Cup final against Fawley in 2018, when he scored twice in a 4-0 victory.
But he could end his long absence with a place in the squad for the weekend trip to Bournemouth Poppies.
‘Alex can be a big player for us,’ said Catlin.
‘Hopefully he will be ready to return on the bench at Bournemouth.’
Prior to his injury, Baldacchino was a regular marksman.
He finished the 2017/18 season as the Royals’ second-top scorer with 19 goals in 22 appearances across all competitions.
In the season previous, he was the club’s leading marksman with 14 goals, while in 2015/16 he struck 15 times in just 20 outings.
Catlin is hopeful his side can make up lost ground by winning at lowly Bournemouth.
Although the sixth-placed Royals will start as firm favourites, Catlin predicts it will be far from straightforward.
‘We can't afford to look at their league position and think it will be easy,’ he said.
‘Bournemouth is never the easiest place to go.
‘We definitely cannot afford to underestimate them.
‘From our point of view, we can't wait to get back playing again.
‘It has been nearly two weeks since we last played.
‘Losing our game at Baffins to the weather was particularly frustrating as it was the only game off on the day.
‘It means we have slipped down the league a little bit.
‘Also, it prevented us from building on the momentum of our terrific win at Fareham.
‘We do have games in hand on the teams above us and we must look to capitalise on them.
‘It remains very tight at the top, with only three or four points between the top ten clubs.
‘All the top sides are capable of beating each other, so you have to make sure you turn up.’
The break from playing has had one positive benefit - it has given the Royals extra time to get Parish back from injury and work on his fitness.
However, Portchester are still without Josh Warren due to a heel injury.