JAMES Franklyn bagged a stunning hat-trick as US Portsmouth replaced Bemerton Heath at the top of the Wessex League Division 1 table tonight.
The attacking midfielder starred as Glenn Turnbull’s young side sent a message to the rest of the division with a 3-0 success against the section’s highest scorers.
Bemerton arrived at the Victory Stadium boasting 43 goals in just 12 matches with Gosport Borough legend Justin Bennett top of the scoring charts with 28 goals from just 16 appearances.
But Bennett - with four league hat-tricks to his name this term already - was kept quiet by US Portsmouth’s defence throughout.
Indeed, a frustrating night ended early as he was shown a straight red card for violent conduct by referee Jordan McRitchie in the 75th minute.
Franklyn had doubled the lead three minutes earlier, and Bennett’s red card effectively ended the Salisbury club’s chances of keeping hold of top spot.
Franklyn put the hosts in front after just eight minutes, showing great technique to volley past keeper Paddy Creese from 20 yards after a corner had been cleared to him.
Bemerton went close through a Jordan Matthews header before whistle-happy ref McRitchie briefly took centre stage by handing out needless bookings to Bemerton duo George Bennett - once of Gosport - and Jake Burgess.
Heath were then forced to play out the final 10 minutes of the first half a man short after midfielder Eddie Perrett was sin-binned for dissent.
In that time Bemerton went as close as they would all evening, Justin Bennett’s header from a free kick hitting the inside of a post and rebounding back virtually across the goalline. George Bennett, stretching at the far post, was unable to knock the loose ball into an empty net.
Bemerton started the second half stronger, and most of the opening 15 minutes was played in the US Portsmouth half.
George Bennett went close with a low shot while Scott Hassell headed wastefully over from close range.
Out of nowhere, Franklyn doubled the lead on 72 minutes with a superb individual strike. Picking the ball up on the right hand side, he cut inside past two challenges before firing a low shot past Creese.
Bemerton had further chances after being reduced to 10 men, Hassell again heading over from close range and skipper Kane O’Keefe heading a free-kick wide.
With almost the last kick of the evening, in the fifth minute of time added on, Franklyn completed his dazzling trio that would not have looked out of place at a much higher level.
Skipping past one challenge, he ran on into the penalty area before lifting his shot over the advancing Creese.
Though Franklyn’s goals ensured the headlines were all his, there were numerous impressive showings throughout.
Skipper Tom Jeffes was part of a fine three-man central defensive unit, along with Harry Sargeant and Tom Cain, that had kept dangerman Justin Bennett on the periphery of the action.
Wing-backs Elliott Turnbull and the energetic Josh Hazell provided good width, while up front Jay Ripiner worked tirelessly.
Since changing their name to US Portsmouth in 2004 and rejoining the Wessex League, the club have never played in the top flight.
More performances like this one against Bemerton will go a long way towards ensuring that 16-season run comes to an end next spring ...