Wallace 46, Taylor 77
By Chris Groves
TWO Portsmouth goals in a rollercoaster second half were enough to subject Argyle to an agonising 2-1 defeat, though it was perhaps a goalless opening 45 minutes that played the biggest part in the Greens losing this Dockyard Derby.
The damage from Pompey was done between the 46th and 77th minutes, with goals from Jed Wallace and Ryan Taylor. An excellent Olly Lee strike less than a minute after the second goal led to an extremely nervy ending at Fratton Park, but a second yellow card for Curtis Nelson ensured the Greens fell just short of taking something out of a game they could so easily have taken control of in the first half.
Charlton Athletic loanee Zak Ansah was handed his first professional start by manager John Sheridan, after creating some eye-catching moments as a substitute against Burton Albion and Cheltenham Town. The youngster replaced Lewis Alessandra, but it was Jason Banton, however, who started the game closest to Reuben Reid, with Ansah playing furthest forward of a midfield three.
The Greens cruised to a 3-0 victory that afternoon in November, but one factor that would have given Pompey belief of faring better second time round is the loan acquisition of Matt Tubbs from Bournemouth - Sky Bet League 2’s leading marksman with 19 goals. Nyron Nosworthy stepped in for the injured Ben Chorley in the hosts’ only change from their 2-2 draw with Carlisle United on Good Friday.
Much like this fixture that took place on the final day of last season – a sensational 3-3 draw – the game immediately felt much more, shall we say, picturesque than your usual League 2 fixture, all of which have a different aspect of romance to them. A warm and sunny day to play football on a decent playing surface in front of 16,581 fans (1,780 representing the Green Army). The only thing either team could ask for was a victory: in Argyle’s case to solidify their place in the play-offs and, in Portsmouth’s case, to excorcise any demons they may still be haunted by after their drubbing at Home Park in front of the Sky cameras.
No reason for either team to not enjoy the day, then, and it was Portsmouth who started brightest, with Matt Tubbs firing in an early warning sign from a tight angle that had be tipped behind by Luke McCormick.
Ansah then looked to respond, shrugging off a challenge from midfield and putting a defender on their backside with a drop of the shoulder, but he could not beat Paul Jones with a 20-yard effort. The Pilgrims were keen to continue pressuring their slow-starting opponents, and Bobby Reid unlocked their defences with a lofted ball to namesake Reuben after 18 minutes. Reid cut back and squared the ball to Dominic Blizzard, but Jones was out quickly to snuff out the midfielder’s attempt at his feet.
Andy Awford’s side continuously gave the ball away in comfortable possession, but Argyle were not careful enough themselves with the ball to punish them. Set-piece delivery was inconsistent, and glimpses of a killer pass were spotted very quickly by the likes of Blizzard and Bobby, but rarely found their mark.
A more subdued atmosphere came over all four corners of Fratton Park, and the opening 45 minutes were perfectly summed up by the half’s final attempt at goal. Nigel Atangana was once again dispossessed in the middle of the park – this time by Ansah – leaving Argyle with a man over on the counter attack. Ansah advanced and played in Banton, who had time and space to pick his spot inside the area, but scuffed his effort past the far post.
Sheridan’s instructions and concerns from the touchline were audible from quite some distance away, so one would imagine his team talk was one of his more passionate and visceral of the season. With none of their fellow play-off contenders winning at the halfway stage, and Newport County already licking their wounds after losing to Exeter City earlier in the day, the proverbial golden opportunity for the Greens to enhance their promotion aspirations was staring them in the face – though it became a whole lot tougher to obtain less than a minute after the restart.
Cutting in from the right flank, Jed Wallace looked to link up with his fellow midfielders and produced the first moment of true class in the game, smashing a left-footed strike past McCormick and into the far corner.
Gut-check time. Argyle have not been the most prolific at recovering from going behind in matches this season, but they did exactly that against leaders Burton Albion just three days previous. Alessandra entered the fray for Banton on the hour mark, as well as a change in formation with Olly Lee replacing Carl McHugh, to ignite some energy to their attacks but, expectedly, Portsmouth were no longer the pushovers that faced the visitors in the first half. They had something to hold onto with new-found belief and confidence. Wallace began to pull the strings and played in Ryan Taylor, before coming inches away from meeting the return ball at the back post.
The men in yellow pushed on, though. After the travelling masses of green aired their grievances at referee Andu D’Urso’s refusal to give a free kick when Gethin Jones was clattered into on the edge of the box, Alessandra’s corner kick was sent towards the far post by Curtis Nelson, but Ansah could not quite grow enough to direct his captain’s header the right side of the post.
It was Pompey’s skipper, though, that would deal the killer blow thirteen minutes from time. Argyle were slow to react to a quickly-taken free kick that led to Wallace floating in a cross to Ryan Taylor, who out-jumped Tareiq Holmes-Dennis to double his side’s advantage – but only for less than a minute.
From the restart, Alessandra found space on the wing to cross towards Reuben Reid. The headed clearance looped to Lee on the edge of the box, who fired a volley into the top corner. The tables immediately turned, with Portsmouth struggling to deal with their visitors’ new-found hope. A flurry of deliveries into the air caused panic and indecision, with Lee nearly doubling his tally with a snap-shot that had to be tipped over by Jones.
The hosts survived and were helped by Nelson receiving a second yellow card in the dying embers of the game. That, as well as a couple of strategically scheduled substitutions and some understandable time-wasting, allowed Pompey to see out the five minutes of added time and deal a vicious blow to Argyle’s hopes of getting out of League 2. It is a blow that would have winded Sheridan’s side even more when we would hear about Luton Town and Steveange’s clutch away wins that have left Argyle a point outside the top seven.
Only a point, mind you. Five to go. On to Mansfield.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): 1 Paul Jones; 18 Josh Passley, 5 Joe Devera, 24 Nyron Nosworthy, 34 Dan Butler; 8 Jed Wallace (29 Danny Hollands 90), 19 Wes Fogden, 21 James Dunne, 25 Nigel Atangana; 9 Ryan Taylor (capt), 14 Matt Tubbs (20 Craig Westcarr). Substitutes (not used): 27 David Cornell (gk), 2 Adam Webster, 17 Nicky Shorey, 33 Ben Close, 36 Conor Chaplin.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh (21 Olly Lee 64), 29 Peter Hartley; 20 Gethin Jones, 17 Bobby Reid, 8 Jason Banton (7 Lewis Alessandra 61), 11 Dominic Blizzard, 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; 27 Zak Ansah (28 Ryan Brunt 77), 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 2 Kelvin Mellor, 3 Ben Purrington, 14 Tyler Harvey.
Booked: Nelson 79
Sent off: Nelson 90
Referee: Andy D’Urso
Attendance: 16,581 (1,780 away)