ANDOVER TOWN travelled down to the south coast to face promotion rivals AFC Portchester at The Blanchard Wells Stadium on spring like Saturday afternoon and suffered a rare defeat beaten 1-0.

This was always going to be tough game as previous encounters had only given Town one win out of seven meetings.

Andover’s starting line up was missing key players who have recently been instrumental in the teams scoring abilities.

This combined with a strongly defensive Portchester, resulted in a 1-0 defeat for the away club at the start of a run of three equally challenging away league games.

It was good to see the return of Connor Cocklin, fit and well, following his injury in the Hamble Town game.

Cocklin came in at number seven replacing the unavailable Jason Silver.

There was also a return to the squad for Harrison Gilkes, on loan from Slough Town, replacing Mike Gosney.

The first opportunity came for Andover in just a few minutes, when Michael Hubbard and Gilkes put a move together which ended with the ball flying across the goal face. Unfortunately, there was no-one to provide the final touch.

Only minutes later, Portchester gave a demonstration of just how dangerous they were going to be during the game when a Del Mason cross came to Steve Ramsey for a header which landed in the hands of Luke Cairney.

This was the first of many Mason attacking moves which caused Andover problems.

Andover were not without their chances and even in this early part of the game George Hallahan found himself with a few goal taking opportunities.

Following a rare Portchester defensive error Hallahan ended up with the ball in front of goal, but he was not able to take the shot and there was no-one to help.

Portchester’s Ramsey had a good game, pushing forward at every opportunity.

Not long after the start he made a skill-full run down the centre of the pitch from the half-way line.

The resulting shot had beat Cairney, but hit the side post to be deflected and put out for a home side corner.

There was no shortage of goal front action from both sides and in the 13th minute there were attempts at either end of the pitch.

Hallahan with a chance which was easily taken by the Portchester goalkeeper Lewis Noice and the home team hit Cairney’s cross bar.

As the first half progressed Portchester began to look more and more like they were going score.

Both Cairney and the Andover outfield defence were challenged on many occasions. Then in the 21st minute, Cocklin failed to clear a good cross and Portchester scored thanks to a Nathan Kirby strike.

Probably Andover’s best opportunity up to this point came shortly after the goal, when a Hallahan pass to Cook looked promising, but just a little too fast for the number 10 and Noice came out to take.

Andover tried again and a Gilkes/Cook manoeuvre set Hallahan up to shot, however the ball went just too wide and Hallahan couldn’t work the angles to finish with an equaliser. These two good attempts seemed to liven up the visitors and the next period of play saw Andover making a few more chances.

However, Cairney was still being challenged on an all too frequent basis but it looked like the Portchester defence could be beaten.

As the first half drew to an end Cairney continued to prevent more home goals, some with quite spectacular saves.

Andover still looked good for an equaliser as they presented themselves with a lot of scoring chances. However it was clear they were struggling with the lack of format the missing players had been giving them in recent games.

The first half finished 1-0 to the home team which was a good reflection of the game so far.

Within minutes of starting the second half, Gilkes found himself as the only defender battling a Portchester breakaway.

Fortunately for Andover the ball was hit wide.

Despite the quick start by the home side Andover were able to command more of the ball in the second half and again made a fair number of opportunities.

The difficult pitch conditions were to contribute to a unfortunate miss by Cook who slipped in front of goal and missed a chance set up by Gilkes and Hallahan.

The playing surface began to suffer from the play and there were a number of uncharacteristic falls by both sides.

Then in the 56th minute, a well placed corner taken by Hubbard, resulted in a scrabble in front of goal which seemed to go on for minutes.

The away team support cheered at one point, as from the side-line stand, the ball appeared to have gone over the line.

It had not, but it was cleared straight to the feet of Cook. The shot taken was accurate but not forceful enough to beat Noice.

Portchester continued to look for a second goal and very nearly achieved it when a cross from Rob Evans once again demanded Cairney’s attention.

The goalkeeper cleared this attempt but only as far as Ramsey whose shot went just wide.

New signing Adam Costello had a solid game and contributed to a chance when he took a very well placed free kick which looked like it was going to find the head of Alex Dockree.

The Portchester defence were too efficient and even the high jumping Dockree couldn’t make contact for a shot on goal.

With nearly 15 minutes left of the game Andover brought on Zach Glasspool and Reece Rusher.

This appeared to be what Andover needed, a fast winger and a centre forward with consistent accuracy in front of goal.

There followed two moves involving Costello and Glasspool, which on any another day, would have provided the goals Andover needed.

But on both occasions Glasspool was just unable to execute his magic and the run of failed attempts continued.

Rusher also made a positive contribution with two good attempts during his time on the pitch. One went just wide and the other was saved by Noice.

Cairney continued to prevent a greater margin in the score even up until the 99th minute when he stopped another Portchester shot.

The game ended with the Portchester team and fans extremely pleased they had beaten the league leaders.

Andover did not really do anything wrong but they were just not in their normal scoring form.

The defence, especially Cairney, had a good game as the Portchester forwards were a constant threat.

Looking forward their next league game is a top of the table affair away at Blackfield and Langley on Saturday.

However, before that is the little matter of a Russell Cotes semi-final at home to Fareham on Tuesday night.