DEFENDING champions Portland United took their first strides in claiming a hat-trick of Dorset Premier League titles, with a convincing display to see off Cranborne.

In a match that Gary Bailey’s men controlled throughout, some sharp build-up play between Ross Doidge and Alex Halloran with 20 minutes gone saw the latter thread a precise ball through for Charlie May, who clinically converted to grab a goal on his league debut for the club.

And just part the hour mark, Halloran and May linked up again and the ball eventually fell to Lewis Clarke to strike home and double the Blues’ advantage.

Fitness then told late on as replacement Ed Bastic surged down the flank and squared a neat ball back across goal for fellow substitute Adam Linaker to score from close range and complete what manager Bailey felt was a professional performance.

“It was very pleasing, we played nicely at times,” he said.

“On the whole we dominated and we were thoroughly on the front foot throughout the game.

“The clean sheet is important to us, we asked the lads to be strong at the back and it was a very professional performance.”

Asked whether he feels his squad can defend their crown once again this term, the island boss added: “We don’t do things at Portland to not be competitive, we strive to be one of the best club’s in the area and in the league.

“I don’t want to make a daft prediction in August but we are here to try and win the league, there is no dressing it up.

“I have a squad that I feel is capable to defend the title and this was just the first step in doing that.”

Blues: Weeks, Bessant, Whyton, Austin, Holland (Reader 70), McKechnie, Smith (Bastic 60), Halloran, R Doidge, Clarke (Linaker 60), May. Subs not used: Newnham, Hill

One of the key obstacles in Bailey’s men retaining the title comes from the threat of last season’s runners-up Weymouth Reserves, who they face at home this evening (6.30 pm).

Ross Carmichael and Linaker are both unavailable for selection and Carl Mutch remains a doubt with a hip injury, but Jake Price and Ben Doidge are both ready to return for the Blues.

On the clash, Bailey added: "There is no real form to go on but Weymouth will come to us fit and organised as always, and I fully expect a tough examination.

“We know we will have to be at our best to get a positive result but everyone looks forward to these games as they are usually hotly contested.”

Blues (from): Weeks, Bessant, Newnham, Whyton, Austin, Reader, Holland, McKechnie, Mutch, Halloran, R Doidge, Smith, Price, Bastic, Clarke, May, Heal, B Doidge