Portsmouth climbed back up to fifth position in League Two after a 3-1 win against travelling Bristol Rovers. A first goal for Michael Smith helped the home side end their three game winless run.
In the squad for the visitors was former Pompey captain Liam Lawrence. His departure in 2011 prevented Pompey from being liquidated, so he was welcomed back with open arms by the home support.
It was a huge play off deciding game in League Two, a fact that Pompey well and truly knew. Portsmouth started quickly with a Ben Davis cross being cleared for a corner within the first exchanges. Bristol Rovers goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall did well to get down low and save it on the line.
Portsmouth sustained that intensity throughout the first ten minutes. The home side clearly had the early ascendancy with Rovers looking rattled. These nerves came to a crescendo when Lee Brown directed a powerful header back to Mildenhall, with the keeper staggering into a catch.
The game was beginning to get fiery also, with Portsmouth’s Kyle Bennett and Bristol Rovers’ Daniel Leadbitter breaking into some afters following a coming together.
Portsmouth broke into a great period of play, dominating the visitors all over the pitch. Adam Webster then broke through the centre of midfield, doing well to keep the ball as challenges flew in, juggling it past the defence, then feeding Ben Davies. Davies broke down the left side and crossed it into the box where Christian Burgess failed to direct it goal ward.
Pompey’s high pressing style was putting serious pressure on the visitor’s defence, Kyle Bennett had yet another chance from a Davies cross, the first effort was saved however and then second parried onto the post by Mildenhall.
Then finally, with nineteen minutes played, Ben Davis’ resilience was rewarded as his cross found an arriving Gareth Evans in the middle of the box, who placed the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net for 1-0. A well-deserved goal for the home side and Evans’ eighth of the season.
At the restart, Rovers were noticeably angry and used the pent up frustration to their advantage as Rory Gaffney hit the bar on the twenty second minute. However, there was controversy in the build up, as Gary Roberts was down in the middle of the park after a coming together with Jermaine Easter. Referee Trevor Kettle pulled the game back to give the stirker a yellow card.
Rovers then sustained a good period of play, breaking forward quickly and getting chances through Rory Gaffney and Stuart Sinclair. Adam Webster and Burgess stood up to all attempts though to prevent an equaliser.
What followed was a period of domination from the home side. Playing far more confidentially than the visitors, Pompey had the better of the chances. Smith should have really had a second on the fifty fourth minute, a back header from Roberts finding him in the middle of the area, the resulting shot was weak and wide.
With hope in the match restored, Rovers brought on Columbian Crisitan Montano and free scoring Matty Taylor with thirty-five minutes to play. Taylor’s fourteen goals so far in the league have been invaluable to the pirates. But it was his opposite number, Smith, who should have once again had a second after being released by Evans, his sliding shot was saved well by Mildenhall.
By this time, with an hour played, Pompey settled into a consistent rhythm, with Gary Roberts being the stand out player in midfield. Clever runs on and off the ball were giving Pompey many options in attack.
The central defence partnership of Burgess and Webster were also having a blinder of a game. Burgess especially, preventing Taylor and Gaffney from having any sniff at goal. Eventually a looping ball from Montano found Gaffney in the area who hammered it at goal only to find the face of Pompey Michael Doyle.
Paul Cook then felt he had seen enough of Michael Smith and Gary Roberts replacing them for Marc McNulty and Adam McGurk on the sixty ninth and seventy third minute respectively. The two left to rapturous applause.
McNulty made an immediate impact on the seventy eighth minute, having been fed the ball in the area by Bennett following a dash through the heart of the defence by the wide man. McNulty duly slotted it away for 3-0, and his eighth of the season.
With the game closing down with ten minutes to go, Pompey continued breaking forward through Bennett. Two resulting efforts by Evans and McGurk from these runs, were off the mark however.
Sensing more opportunities from the match, Cook brought top scorer Conor Chaplin on for Bennett. Four minutes were then added on for the earlier stoppages.
One minute into stoppage time, Rovers’ Scott Sinclair was brought down just outside the area. Initial shouts form fans claimed a dive, but the slide tackle from Burgess was high and reckless.
Form the resulting free kick, Rovers snatched a brilliant consolation goal, with Lee Brown stepping up to smash it through the wall and into the top left corner of the net. The net bulged, and it was 3-1, but the pirates failed to come away from Fratton with a plunder of points.
With that, came the final whistle and a role reversal in the league table, with Pompey and Bristol Rovers trading fifth and eight place.