Chickerell UNITED 0
Portland UNITED 1
TOM Carter was the hero for Portland United as they kept their title hopes on track with a hard-fought victory over local rivals Chickerell United at Cranford Avenue.
The defender nodded home in the first half from Alex Halloran’s deep corner and was part of a stubborn backline that had to work extremely hard to keep the Chickens at bay.
Anything less than a win would have all but ended the Blues’ championship hopes but thanks to Carter’s strike they now sit five points clear at the top of the Magna Dorset Premier League ahead of Saturday’s crunch game at second-placed Westland Sports.
The Yeovil outfit now have four games in hand on the islanders while reigning champions Hamworthy Recreation, who are six points adrift, hold three in hand.
Portland boss Stuart Heath said: “Local derbies against Chickerell are always tight and looking back over the season we have probably kept our worst two performances for them.
“That can happen sometimes but the one thing we did do was defend really well again as a unit.
“We have been struggling in an attacking sense since Christmas in terms of fit and available forwards but we have responded to that by making sure we are really solid at the back.
“We have had a few 1-0 victories now since the turn of the year and at the end of the day, at this stage of the season, results are all that matter.
“We have four games left now and are still in there fighting and as I keep saying to the lads, if we take maximum points it will increase the pressure on those trying to chase us down.”
The Blues have conceded just eight goals in their last 13 league games. Heath went on to add: “I cannot fault the lads in terms of determination, courage and bravery, particularly when they are up against it, and that is why we are still in the position we are.
“We really had to rely on that against Chickerell because it was pretty frantic throughout and there is no doubt we will need that sort of character again on Saturday at Westland Sports, which is now a massive game for us.”
Heath’s opposite number, Maurice Welch, felt his Chickens were the better side and deserved at least a draw from the encounter, which saw Josh Why squander a hat-trick of chances.
The Chickerell boss, who boosted his team by drafting in Upwey & Broadwey duo Sean Stewart and Charlie Kenderdine, added: “It was a very tight game and Portland were certainly breathing a huge sigh of relief afterwards.
“I thought we were the better team on the night and they certainly did not deserve all three points. We are just lacking that extra bit up front at the moment.
“Nick Etherington and Josh are working extremely hard but both of them really need a target man to feed off.
“Josh had our three best chances but he could not convert and they just got away from him. Apart from the goal and an effort from Liam Currell that Ashley Weeks saved, Portland did not create much else and at the end there was a mad scramble in the box where on another day the ball might have fallen for us.
“It was disappointing to lose the game but there were more positives than negatives, and it was a good response after such a disappointing performance at Blandford United last weekend.”
The Chickens remain sixth but can still be caught by Bridport Reserves, who they face at St Mary’s Field on Saturday.
Chickens: Weeks, D Welch, S Welch, Walker (Jo Welch 85), Sibley, Miles, Stewart, Kenderdine, Peck (Stone 75), Why, Etherington. Subs not used: Curren, Robinson.
Blues: Bickerstaff, Cranny, Reader, Carter, Whyton, Carmichael, Pattison, Litherland, Boatswain (Toghill 65), Halloran, Currell. Subs not used: Carroll, Mutch, Turrell, Chance.