BOSS Ollie Cherrett admitted his players were crestfallen after a controversial late equaliser from US Portsmouth had all but ended Christchurch’s Wessex One promotion hopes.
Priory looked destined to claim a vital three points after goals from Will Gage and Luke Stone had given them the advantage as the clock ticked into added time at Hurn Bridge.
But referee Takeshi Fujikura took centre stage when he awarded the visitors a hotly-disputed penalty and sent off Christchurch defender Dave Legg for his part in conceding the spot-kick.
Jimmy Cuthbert converted past the despairing dive of goalkeeper Max Frampton – who guessed correctly by diving to his right – with Priory protestations continuing after the final whistle.
The draw left Christchurch just a point outside the top three with one game remaining but third-placed Shaftesbury travel to Tadley Calleva today knowing a win would secure the third and final promotion berth.
Cherrett accepted his side’s chances had probably slipped away and told the Daily Echo: “It’s hard, it’s gutting, it felt like a loss and the lads were distraught. We’ve got to pick ourselves up and you never know.
“We’ve got to do our job and I’ve said over the past few weeks, if we don’t win our games, it doesn’t matter what Shaftesbury do.
“We didn’t win this one so are relying on them dropping two games. Will they do that? Deep down, I don’t think they will.”
Christchurch made a slow start and soon found themselves trailing. Although Portsmouth’s Jordan Salvage was denied by Frampton, the winger steered the rebound past him.
Priory levelled when Stone threaded a perfectly-weighted pass to Gage who steadied himself before calmly stroking the ball into the back of the net.
Christchurch deservedly took the lead after the interval when Stone fastened onto a long ball over the top from Legg.
The striker showed great composure to round the goalkeeper and fire home to make it 2-1.
With time running out for the visitors, a hopeful punt downfield caused confusion at the back.
Legg found himself in a tussle with his man and, after both players had ended up on the floor, the referee pointed to the spot and red carded Legg.
Cuthbert stepped up to take the pressure kick following a lengthy delay and squeezed it past Frampton with no time for a response.
Cherrett added: “One thing I can never put against these players is they don’t care.
“I’ve got a really honest bunch of lads and I said to them we’ve got to believe. Until it’s mathematically impossible, we’ve got to believe.”
Christchurch complete their season with a trip to East Cowes Vics, while Shaftesbury host Fleet Spurs.
Priory: Frampton, Senior, Cole, Legg, Cormack, Cullen, Gage, Wrixton, Stone (Butler), Masson (Thompson), Cooper.