STEVENAGE MATCH REPORT
Pompey's stuttering home from continued yesterday, with the Blues coming agonisingly close to seeing off struggling Stevenage, managed by ex-Fratton favourite Teddy Sheringham.
Seconds remained before the inevitable final blow on the whistle was to sound, but seconds too long as Pompey's hearts were shattered by the always hard-hitting injury time goal. Although always difficult to stomach, most left feeling even flatter as Pompey had wasted a chance to top the League Two table, with leader's Plymouth losing 1-0 away at 3rd place Oxford.
Pompey were in good mood heading into the game, after two successive wins on the road, whilst opponents Stevenage, had lost 4 of the last 6 and remained without an away win this season to date. Although, there was a clear difference in the game than seen in previous fixtures.
Teddy's side were not set up to defend, proving Blues boss Paul Cook correct in assuming Stevenage came to Fratton to play. And that they did, with the Boro playing a big part in what was in truth, an entertaining draw on the night.
Pompey made one change from the side who beat Newport 1-0 at the weekend, with 30-year-old Rommy Boco coming in for Kal Naismith. The hosts, started enthusiastically but were perhaps taken slightly aback when it was the visitors who launched the first attacks.
The Blues back four, which featured Adam Webster at the centre following his achievement of selection for the team of the week on Saturday, were alive to deal with several early balls into box, with Aaron McCarey also aware to react to any danger coming in.
Pompey soon settled into their groove and threatened shortly later, as they broke quickly with Roberts firing a shot that was well parried by Boro 'keeper Jesse Jeronen.
Rommy Boco then went close, the winger from Benin forcing Jeronen into a full-length strech to deny his shot from heading into the bottom corner on his full debut.
Stevenage didn't turn up to be hammered by the Blues and settle for a point, going very close to taking the lead when Tom Pett fired the ball across the face of goal. Luckily for Pompey, no one was on hand to tap home and cause upset in front of the Fratton End, who desperately wanted a win.
But this didn't worry Pompey, who were back on the attack moments later. Ben Davies, who has fast become a key name on the team sheet, did no harm to his increasing reputation as he tore apart Stevenage's left wing. Time after time this season, the right-back has skinned his marker and played a wonderful ball in. This was the case once more, as he turned the left-back inside out before whipping in, finding Boco who's header was well held by Jeronen.
It was all happening down the right with Davies, who this time burst into the area and tumbled under the challenge Okimo's, who's questionable attempt at winning the ball from behind was deemed fair and play resumed.
Despite the let off, Stevenage should have gone behind after Gary Roberts missed the chance of the half 10 minutes before the interval. Matt Tubbs went from Pompey's talisman to playmaker, picking up a lose ball that Mark Hughes had stood on and lost control of. Tubbs sent the ball over to Bennett, who's incisive flick left Roberts with a free half-volley at goal. Despite the intial thoughts of the South Stand, his shot struck the side netting and not where it should of, that being the back of the net.
Pompey grew to dominate the final few minutes of the half, yet as seen on multiple occasions at Fratton thus far, nothing came of the pressure.
Following the interval, Stevenage were fastest out of the traps, with Adinyemi squandering a glorious chance to put the Boro ahead. After some neat build up, the striker found himself with just McCarey to beat but struck his shot inches wide of the far post with the travelling fans feeling sure their side must have gone ahead.
It was then Pompey's turn to attack, after Enda Stevens had burst forward into the final third of Stevenage's half. The left-back found Roberts, who in similar fashion to Pett for the Boro, sprayed the ball across the face of the Fratton End goal but again no one was on hand to simply tap home. Frustration for the Blues began to build as once more they came close, but lacked the decisive end product.
Stevenage didn't get out of their own half for longer than a couple of minutes for the rest of the game. Pompey's possession grew and the pressure was mounted upon the traveller's, as has become custom at the Fortress this season.
Blues' skipper Michael Doyle was the next to go first as the midfielder went in search of his first Pompey goal. After terrific persistence and trickery from Davies, as always, he teed up the captain who let fly from 20 yards and forced a big stop out of Jeronen at his near post, the Stevenage 'keeper with a great display throughout the game.
Coalan Lavery graced the Fratton turf for the first time, coming on for Tubbs shortly after the hour mark as the Northern Ireland striker aimed to show off his potential. He went some way to doing that after controlling and assisting Bennett, however Joronen was on hand yet again to deny Pompey.
Bennett who has come under some criticism in recent weeks, didn't perform fantastically in the game, but didn't give up and continued throughout the game to try and test the keeper, trying to rekindle the flair of his debut.
Finally the deadlock was broken, and it was an intuitive substitution by Cookie that made it. Pompey's own Conor Chaplin replaced the impressive Boco, and released some tension in the ground after latching on to Webster's through ball that slipped past Jamie McCombe, and slotting home from a difficult angle. A huge sigh of relief as well as a massive roar from the Fratton Crowd ensued, with Chaplin again showing that he could be great in the coming years.
Stevenage now had to pile on the pressure if they were to rescue anything from the game. Yet a quick counter-attack led by Chaplin saw the youngster curl one incredibly close to sending the home supporters into jubilation.
But hearts were in mouths, 4 minutes into the 5 of injury time. A long throw of the ball, something Pompey have always been shocking at defending, bounced in the area and the ball was looped over McCarey (in his final game of his month's loan spell) by Williams. The 91st minute substitute snatched a point for the visitors, preventing Pompey from claiming their first home win since September 12th.
The final whistle blew, Pompey hearts torn out of their chests.
As a result, Pompey still chase Dockyard rivals Plymouth at the summit of England's 4th division, whilst Stevenage remain 20th, now 6 points from the relegation zone. Oxford, following their win over Argyle are now fire on Pompey's tails, level on points but behind on goal difference.
The Blues boss said: "That`s football and you just have to get on with it. We`ve played 14 games and lost one, so we`ll just keep going.
Cookie came out, head still head high albeit the disappointing result and The Blues boss said: "That`s football and you just have to get on with it. We`ve played 14 games and lost one, so we`ll just keep going.
"It`s a long season and there will always be inconsistent results around you, but you`re only ever interested in your own one.
"Unfortunately we were unable to hold our lead on this occasion and that`s the disappointing thing.
"We`re huffing and puffing, but don`t quite look like we`re going to get on top of someone. It`s more about effort than quality.'
A gutter for the fans, especially with a good chance to lead, missed. But, another point collected, one we would have easily lost last season. 32 games remain and Pompey are still hot on the heels of Argyle.
Unfortunately, his best efforts couldn't single-handedly make Pompey victors, yet Davies shouldn't go without recognition, as his endless effort makes him my pick for star player. He's fast becoming my favourite too.
PLAY UP POMPEY!
POMPEY PLAY UP!