Football / Non-League Notebook: Portway powers the Fleet

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The Independent Online
AFTER suffering relegation from the Premier Division of the Beazer Homes League last season, Gravesend and Northfleet are well placed to bounce back at the first attempt - thanks largely to the goalscoring feats of Steve Portway, who found the net six times in the Fleet's 7-2 win at Bury Town last weekend.

Portway, a 24-year-old bank employee, has now scored 44 goals in all competitions this season, 35 of them in the league. After serving time at Dagenham, Walthamstow Avenue, Bishop's Stortford, Brentwood, Witham, and Boreham Wood, he hit 36 goals for Barking last season. Surprisingly, he joined Gravesend in the close season in preference to one of the GM Vauxhall Conference clubs who were keen on him.

Garry Aldous, Gravesend's manager, had his assistant, Peter Coffill, to thank for his summer recruit. 'Peter plays for the same Sunday side as Portway, so he did all the persuading,' Aldous said. 'Steve is like Gary Lineker, he doesn't score many spectacular goals, but he has the knack of being in the right place at the right time. He's a penalty-area player - the best I've seen in the Southern League.'

Aldous has rebuilt his side, with only three men remaining from the squad which went down last term. Portway and his striking partner, Micky Cotter, provide the thrust up front, while midfield is the domain of Coffill, the 33-year-old former Watford, Torquay and Northampton playmaker.

With two promotion places to play for, the Fleet lead the Beazer Southern Division by nine points from their wealthy Kent rivals, Sittingbourne, who have three games in hand. They claimed second place from Wealdstone with Tuesday's 3-2 win at Bury Town - who must be sick of the sight of Kent clubs, having lost 7-2 at home to Erith and Belvedere at the start of the month.

The league could be decided by the two games still to come between Sittingbourne and Gravesend, who were winning 2-1 in front of a crowd of 1,864 at Sittingbourne on 2 January when the match was abandoned because of fog. The two sides are due to meet at the Fleet's Stonebridge Road ground on the penultimate Saturday of the season. 'I just hope we're both up by then,' Aldous said.