Roberts maintains superb AFC Portchester scoring run with late equaliser in Wessex League Premier clash with Stoneham
Kieran Roberts maintained his superb scoring run to salvage a point for AFC Portchester against AFC Stoneham.
With six minutes remaining, the Royals were facing a second successive home Wessex League Premier Division loss of the season, having previously been stunned by Brockenhurst last time out on August 28.
Former Portchester striker Callum Laycock had celebrated his return to what is now called the On-Site Group Stadium by putting the Purples into the lead just before the hour-mark.
But the hosts grabbed a point when Roberts rose highest in a crowded goalmouth to power in a header from Harvey Aston’s free-kick from just outside the 18-yard box near the goalline.
It was his 14th goal of the campaign in just 11 starts plus one sub appearance. He has now netted in nine of those 12 matches.
‘It was a fair result,’ declared Portchester boss Dave Carter.
‘We had about eight players out, we were down to the bare bones.’
Roberts, like virtually everyone associated with Portchester, had endured a frustrating afternoon prior to the equaliser.
With fellow in-form forward Lee Wort away on holiday, Roberts was deployed as a lone central striker with George Barker, Joe Briggs and Marley Ridge aiming to support from midfield roles.
A first half short on chances at either end saw Roberts continually complaining to referee Thomas Baines about a lack of protection and free-kicks in his favour up against impressive centre halves Will Wiseman and ex-Fareham player Ronan Galloway. At times Roberts had a point, but at least this was one official who did his best to try and keep the game flowing. You can’t say that about every ref at this level.
The best opportunity in the opening 45 minutes had fallen to Stoneham top scorer Duarte Martins. Having struck six goals in his previous four appearances, he latched onto a Laycock flick inside the Royals’ penalty area - only to see his shot palmed away for a corner by Steve Mowthorpe diving full stretch to his right.
Stoneham started the second half the brighter, after the hosts had been forced into a half-time change - right-back George Colson off injured to be replaced by teenager Aston.
Laycock was presented with a great chance on 57 minutes, one-time Portchester player Jake Thomson finding him unmarked at the far post. But Mowthorpe was out quickly to block his shot.
The Royals didn’t heed the warning signals, and two minutes later they were behind. Left-back Tom Unsworth crossed to the back post, Martins nodded the ball down and Laycock, again unmarked, couldn’t really miss from a few yards out. It was a poor goal to concede and Carter was annoyed his side hadn’t snuffed out the danger back in the midfield areas.
Roberts was close to a leveller three minutes later, receiving an Aston pass but firing over the bar from about 12 yards out.
On 66 minutes Carter took off Joe Briggs - making his first appearance since late August due to having recently become a father - and brought on ex-Pompey striker Ash Harris.
Harris, now 27, appeared for the Blues in the Championship before drifting into non-league football. He played for Carter at both Horndean and Moneyfields but has not appeared at Wessex League for several years.
It was Portchester’s third sub, though, who provided Stoneham with problems.
Lamin Jatta was introduced on 77 minutes for Barker and instantly gave the Royals something they had been lacking - direct running at the visitors’ defence. And no defence, at any level, enjoys players coming towards them at pace.
It was a foul on Jatta that gave Portchester the free-kick from which Roberts levelled.
Handed a fresh urgency by that goal, the hosts kept up the pressure. Yet a winner would have been harsh on a Stoneham side who have already inflicted the only league loss on Horndean this season, won at Moneyfields in the FA Cup, and also taken points off Hamworthy (the only team to have done so) and Shaftesbury.
It was not hard to see why the Purples enjoyed all those good results.
The visitors even thought they had won it in time added on, but Martins’ strike was disallowed for offside. Similarly, Portchester - though well below par - didn’t really deserve to have lost either.
Carter admitted the absence of eight-goal Wort was a big blow. ‘’It’s not ideal playing one up front,’ he said. ‘Lee’s a massive part of our team.
‘His workrate is unbelievable. Several times the ball went to the near post which is where he normally makes his runs.’
The manager was also right when he said: ‘Teams are going to raise their game against us. They know we want to get into the Southern League.’
Already, the 2021/22 Wessex League title race is looking hard to call. Portchester and Hamworthy were the two pre-season favourites, but there are a handful of clubs who will have something to say about that.
Not least Horndean, now up to second ahead of Tuesday week’s Premier Division visit to Portchester - a potentially cracking game that will no doubt attract a good crowd to the best supported club in the division.
Prior to that, Royals defender Owen Roundell completes his three-match ban in Tuesday’s Hampshire Senior Cup home tie with New Milton Town. Jake Raine, though, remains suspended, with his four-game suspension finishing at former club Moneyfields in next weekend’s mouthwatering FA Vase tie.
Portchester: Mowthorpe, Colson (Aston, HT), Bailey, Dinsmore, Sharp, Pearce, McCreadie, Ridge, Briggs (Harris, 66), Roberts, Barker (Jatta, 77).
Stoneham: Parker-Trott, Kerton, Unsworth, Bainbridge, Galloway, Wiseman, Martins, Orvis, Laycock, Thomson (Bickley, 83), Romero.