Bournemouth Poppies fell to a 1-0 defeat against AFC Porchester at a wet and windy Victoria Park, bringing an end to the club’s unbeaten record in the Wessex Premier.
Dan Davis / Giancarlo Bocchetti.
The high-flying visitors superbly repelled a string of Poppies attacks on a difficult surface throughout the first half, whilst also testing home goalkeeper Sam Jones on multiple occasions.
But Jones’ heroics would be undone late on as Portchester stole maximum points three minutes from time, Olly Searle’s glancing header shattering Poppies’ resistance.
Poppies manager Michael Cuffie made one change from the side that triumphed against Gosport Borough on Tuesday.
Full-back Aziz Aldahayan returned in place of Rob Head, who dropped to the bench. Stepan Nervonski, who has recently returned to Victoria Park, partnered Ali Zintany and captain Ron Frost in a deeper-lying role.
The recalled Harry Cooper was named among the substitutes, along with new addition Pepe Smith, whilst strike partners Mickey Finch and Steve Flynn were both unavailable due to their respective suspensions.
After a scrappy opening to proceedings, it was the visitors who threatened first. Nervonski was penalised for a foul 30 yards from goal, but the resultant free-kick was bent round the wall and comfortably off target.
The end to end encounter continued, and Poppies carved out a golden opportunity to move into the lead. On 17 minutes, Fawzi Saadi dug out a cross which was met by the head of Frost. The skipper’s planted effort looked set to arch into the far corner, before a visiting defender scrambled away.
Portchester looked to immediately respond, and as a delivery was swung into a crowded Poppies penalty area, a visiting centre-half evaded the attentions of Chris Speers before nodding off target.
Lucas Gelsleichter, another new arrival in Cuffie’s ranks, was then bundled to the surface a shade after the half hour mark. Frost stood poised to shoot, but the skipper’s effort struck the Portchester wall and was cleared.
Poppies’ shot stopper then endured a nervy moment before the half-time interval, as a wicked cross whistled through the air and slipped out of Jones’ clutches. But the home side’s blushes were spared after the goalkeeper gratefully gathered at the second attempt.
Moments after the break, the end-to-end nature of the clash saw more chances squandered by both sides. Frost’s challenge on the edge of the box was penalised, but the Portchester frontman’s effort from the free-kick was thundered into the Poppies wall.
Shiv Roushbaiani, fielded in a central role for much of the opening period, was then released on the far side of the penalty area but curled an effort narrowly off target.
After Frost fired wide, the Poppies boss opted to make his first changes. Cooper was introduced into the fray after a short absence, while Smith replaced Zintany.
The changes almost immediately paid off for the home side, after a quick interchange through the centre of the park handed Frost the opportunity to launch a long throw into the Portchester box. The captain’s throw was typically powerful and Speers rose highest to glance narrowly wide of the far post.
As Poppies hunted for the opener, the visitors’ threat on the counter became evident. An incisive pass between Harvey Elsom and Speers looked set to roll through to Portchester’s target man, but goalkeeper Jones was quick to race off his line and hack away.
Jones’ stellar showing would continue on 70 minutes, after the Royals earned themselves a corner kick. The ball was whipped into a congested Poppies box, with a visitor shaking off his marker and heading towards goal.
The effort looked destined to drop beyond Jones, but the shot stopper plunged to his left and acrobatically clawed away on the goal line.
Another Portchester strike whistled wide of the target as the encounter moved into its latter stages, before boss Cuffie replaced Frost with midfielder Head.
But just as it seemed Poppies would ride out the rest of the game, Portchester bundled home a late winner to move to the Wessex Premier summit.
With 86 minutes played, a free-kick was chipped into the Poppies’ six-yard box. As Jones swept forward to punch clear, Searle was quickest to the ball and nodded beyond the covering defender and into the net.
Heroics from Jones’ opposite number, Tom Price, preserved the visitors’ clean sheet in the dying stages of the game. Substitute Smith blasted over the crossbar on the turn in additional time, before Price pounced onto a goalmouth scramble to deny Poppies a leveller on the stroke of the full-time whistle.
POPPIES: Jones, Aldahayan, Speers, Elsom, Ohameje, Frost (Head), Nervonski, Zintany (Smith), Saadi, Gelschleichter, Roushbaiani (Cooper)
Subs not used: Garcia, Langston, Stacey