Borthwick 65


Sweeney 80, 89

CALLUM Sweeney’s late double ensured Portland United must take a second bite of the play-off cherry after a 2-1 home defeat by Shaftesbury, who took a ninth-straight win.

Going into the game, the Blues knew victory against the Rockies or over Brockenhurst on Saturday would seal a place in the coveted top five.

But the Blues led until the 80th minute, when Sweeney netted the first of his match-turning brace.

Portland, playing with a biting Spring wind in the opening half, nearly went 1-0 up in four minutes only for a Jack Delves corner to evade a passive Sam Gadsby at the back post.

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At the other end, Harrison Bruton juggled a free-kick and later produced a stunning reflex save to push clear Louis Kellaway’s volley.

Portland’s spirits were not to be dampened, though, as Gadsby headed a difficult back-post chance wide under pressure from Joe Wickham’s inswinging corner.

In the second half, Shaftesbury’s Stu Green lashed over after a goalmouth scramble, while Portland went close when Max Buckler dragged wide from 30 yards.

Portland had to weather a Shaftesbury flurry of chances as the visitors finally found some fluency, Green trying an ambitious lob from the halfway touchline before ex-Bournemouth striker Brett Pitman crashed a free-kick over the far angle.

Bruton’s best save was yet to come as he somehow tipped over Green’s effort after the forward outpaced the Portland defence.

Bruton’s stop intensified in importance on 65 minutes as Portland took the lead through their top scorer Greg Borthwick.

Buckler threaded a clever through ball into Borthwick and the striker took it first time, barrelling home off the glove of Rockies keeper Shane Murphy.

Shaftesbury responded by giving Portland’s defence a thorough aerial examination, player-assistant Jamie Symes heading off the line and Pitman lobbing over from 30 yards.

The Rockies turned to ingenuity to unlock the door as Pitman’s free-kick to the back post was nodded across goal for ex-Weymouth defender Liam Farrugia whose header was pushed over by the ever-alert Bruton.

However, the pressure finally told in the 80th minute as Sweeney pounced on a weak headed clearance to bury a fierce strike into the top-left corner from 20 yards.

Portland still had everything to play for and were unlucky to see sub George Stuttle’s corner headed wide by Gadsby, whose chance was made awkward by a high bounce.

Then came the big moment of the game as Shaftesbury won a contentious free-kick on the right, swung in by Farrugia, and Sweeney dropped a deft header into the bottom-right corner to end Portland’s hopes of victory.

Reacting to the late loss, Blues’ boss Kyle Critchell told Echosport: “I couldn’t be prouder of the efforts.

“We were 15 minutes away. We gave away a sloppy goal and we’ve been on the end of some good decisions recently, unfortunately that second one didn’t work in our favour.

“It was a great finish from Greg. Harrison’s had to keep us in it multiple times with some really good saves but they’re a fantastic side.

“They’ve got some really experienced players. It was a really physical game and difficult to watch at times.”

Critchell also credited Sweeney’s high-quality brace as having that extra bit of magic needed to defeat his team.

“That’s probably the little bit of class that’s the difference between the two sides,” he added.

“We talked about the experience they’ve got in forward areas and that’s what we’re trying to get our players to and what we’re trying to develop them to.

“That’s work on the training field, work in terms of my coaching. In terms of the efforts they’ve given me, I can’t ask for much more.”

Portland host Brockenhurst tomorrow (3pm) knowing three points would seal an away play-off against either AFC Stoneham or Shaftesbury this Tuesday.

Blues: Bruton, Symes, Clarke (Stuttle 74), Buckler, Gadsby, Callow, Wickham, Williams, Borthwick, Camp (Bent 66), Delves (Coombs 74).

Attendance: 181.

Match sponsor: Excelsior Coaches.

Man of the match sponsor: Dave Camp.

Match ball sponsor: Dave Darby.

Programme sponsor: Graham Luke.

Mascots: Portland United Pebbles (U15 girls).