Portsmouth go into every game fearing it may be their last, such is the dire situation surrounding the club. But as Liam Lawrence recently illustrated when leaving for Cardiff on loan, the Fratton followers are “the most amazing set of supporters in the country” and they continued to demonstrate their belief in the club against a high-flying Middlesbrough side.
Despite the extremely contrasting league positions of the two sides, Middlesbrough began quite shakily, whilst Portsmouth failed to capitalise on some early unease in the Teesiders’ defence. The need for more composure was obvious as their final ball was often too heavy as they tried to force the issue.
Middlesbrough, nonetheless, looked sharp in attack, largely orchestrated by new loan signing Adam Hammill who was making his debut following a recent loan move from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Self-confessed Southampton fan Lukas Jutkiewicz looked a constant threat up front, taking a battering for his troubles as he collided with Pompey defender Ricardo Rocha.
Also sharp in attack was another loan player, Portsmouth’s Scott Allan who looked bright and creative playing behind the loan striker of Marko Futacs, with neat interplay with fellow loanee George Thorne often leading to some good chances.
With both teams creating chances, the game began to come alive, with Portsmouth goalkeeper Stephen Henderson making several vital saves, whilst also ably supported by his back four. New captain Jason Pearce and experienced defender Tal Ben Haim were forced into making several robust challenges to keep Middlesbrough at bay.
However, the threat posed by Middlesbrough was clear, as midfield lynchpin Nicky Bailey started to dictate the tempo and give an insight into what was to come in the second half.
The second half began in much the same manner as the first, with both teams failing to break through the other as much of the possession remained in the middle third of the pitch.
Nevertheless, the game’s breakthrough came with a rather contentiously given penalty, as Rocha was judged to have pulled back his opponent from a corner, whilst Barry Robson duly dispatched the spot kick under hapless Henderson’s body. Yet straight from the kick off, Portsmouth went straight down the other end and nearly pulled level through George Thorne.
These moments sparked the game into life and turned it into an incredibly feisty contest, as Middlesbrough’s Faris Haroun committed two fouls in quick succession. Portsmouth’s fans were calling for a red card before Boro manager Tony Mowbray swiftly substituted him to avoid a dismissal.
This incident signalled the start of some picky referring decisions, as the game began to become extremely stop-start, with the referee failing to allow the match to flow and consequently losing control of proceedings.
Middlesbrough subsequently doubled their lead through captain Matthew Bates who, with the goal gaping, fired in on the rebound after Henderson had parried a header from Jutkiewicz.
This prompted a double change from Pompey, as manager Appleton sent on strikers Dave Kitson and Luke Varney, which immediately profited, as Portsmouth clawed their way back into the game. A thunderous long range drive from defender Rocha flew through a melee of bodies and clearly hit a Middlesbrough arm to give Portsmouth a penalty which Greg Halford converted with aplomb.
As Portsmouth pushed for the crucial equaliser they were perhaps inevitably caught napping; Adam Hammill’s shot was well saved by the impressive Henderson, only for the rebound to fall to Middlesbrough’s substitute Marvin Emnes who blasted the ball into the roof of the net to guarantee the points for Middlesbrough.
Middlesbrough’s Rhys Williams was then sent off for a second booking, but it was too late for Portsmouth to salvage anything. Their luck continued to be down despite their industrious hard work and the support of some incredible followers who are left to wonder for how long they will continue to exist.