Tubbs pen 45, Roberts pen 86
by Rob McNichol
SHOTS from a combined 24 yards were enough for Portsmouth to record victory over Argyle - but the promotion favourites had to survive a late Pilgrims fightback to record their win.
Matt Tubbs scored from the penalty spot right on half time, and late in the second half Gary Roberts also slotted home a spot kick to give Pompey a two-goal cushion, but a late cracker by Gregg Wylde briefly stirred hopes of a fightback.
It was not to be, and in truth parity would have been harsh on an impressive Portsmouth side who gave plenty of indications of why the bookmakers will give you stingy odds on them being a League 1 side this time next year.
Both sides had the luxury of fielding sides resembling their first choice line-up. After making seven changes for their midweek win over Derby in the Capital One Cup, Portsmouth reverted to the exact 18 that beat Dagenham & Redbridge last Saturday, while Argyle's only alteration was the inclusion of Craig Tanner for Jake Jervis, a change that was made approximately 11 minutes into the Pilgrims' Tuesday night defeat against Gillingham.
Portsmouth caused a scare for Argyle inside a minute, when Hiram Boateng has his pocket picked and Pompey broke. After a crucial interjection by Peter Hartley the ball fell to Gareth Evans, who first drew a decent save out of Luke McCormick, then a block inside the six yard area by Curtis Nelson.
The early exchanges were fairly even, and lively, with both sides looking to attack, although Portsmouth had the only other notable chance of the first twenty minutes, when Kyle Bennett found space and his shot was tipped over by a backpedalling McCormick.
Portsmouth, backed by a vociferous following of over 1,500 supporters, began to take a foothold on the game. While no clear cut chances emerged, the general pattern of play saw blue shirts going forward, green-and-white ones retreating. Argyle, though, had a moment of excitement when Boateng sweetly caught a dropping ball on the volley in the area, but it went over the bar. Quirkily, had Boateng been about ten yards further out, it may have had a better chance of going in.
Around the half hour mark, Argyle began to get in the game a little. Two corners by Graham Carey and a floated Gregg Wilde cross highlighted distinct insecurity and fallibility in the Pompey defence, before Carey's dipping volley was superbly tipped over the bar by Brian Murphy. Tanner and Reid then had a nifty interchange inside the area that the visitors halted by luck rather than judgement.
As the half wore to a close, a free-kick by Roberts caused a little consternation, and after a half-clearance, Nigel Atangana's low drive was well held by McCormick.
In first-half injury time, Portsmouth took the lead from the penalty spot, although there was more than a little suspicion that the award was, if not soft, at least al dente. Boateng's clearance was charged down and fell to Enda Stevens, who went down under a little pressure from Boateng. Referee Steve Martin gave the spot-kick with gusto, and Tubbs stroked home from 12 yards.
Going into the break a goal down suddenly seemed harsh, given Argyle's return to prominence as the half wore on. A judge may well have awarded the half to the visitors on points, but at the time of the goal they were not on top.
The goal just before the break seemed to settle Pompey after it, as Argyle were forced to settle for long periods of containing football, simply trying to prevent Portsmouth from converting their long spells of possession into goals. They came close when Bennett scooted inside Sawyer and shot across goal, but the ball flew wide of McCormick's right hand post.
Sadly, the game descended into a story about a man neither in green, nor blue. It is open to the interpretation of the observer as to whether referee Stephen Martin made poor decision, whether Argyle were feeling frustrated, whether Portsmouth did a good job of using the 'dark arts' - or whether it was a combination of them all. What is fact is that the Home Park faithful became increasingly incensed, and their feelings of injustice were echoed in the actions of the manager and players they were supporting.
Reasons for decisions were not always clear, and when Curtis Nelson was cited for a free-kick when simply jumping for the ball, it seemed tempers may bubble over. They did not, but seconds later Nelson got caught by a leaping Jayden Stockley - who was booked for his challenge - and blood was drawn. As Nelson ran off, presumably to get stitches, Derek Adams decided to roll the dice and bring on Ryan Brunt in his stead.
The switch almost paid dividends; Brunt headed just wide from a corner with his first touch. Then, from another corner, McHugh did superbly to flick a header across goal, but none of his team-mates could quite convert the chance into an equaliser.
Pompey made changes themselves, perhaps surprisingly taking off goalscorer Tubbs and the impressive Atangana, but they remained confident, with the lively Bennett hitting a dipping effort not far wide.
It was hard to begrudge Portsmouth their second penalty - and, ergo, goal - when Roberts beat Sawyer all ends up, and the full back could only drag him back. With Tubbs off the field, Roberts took the penalty himself, and stroked it confidently into the bottom right-hand corner.
In the final minute, a long ball by McHugh was poorly dealt with by Portsmouth defender Christian Burgess under pressure from Reid, and Wylde ran to the loose ball to lash home a cracking volley.
Argyle rallied in injury time - including Reid trying to conjure through a bank of defenders in the six-yard area, and several balls slung into the danger zone - but to no avail.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt) (17 Ryan Brunt 73) 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 20 Hiram Boateng, 4 Carl McHugh; 27 Craig Tanner, 10 Graham Carey, 11 Gregg Wylde; 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 7 Lee Cox, 8 Josh Simpson, 15 Tyler Harvey, 16 Ben Purrington, 19 Aaron Bentley, 21 James Bittner (gk).
Booked: Boateng 45, Mellor 49, Sawyer 85.
Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): 24 Brian Murphy; 2 Ben Davies, 6 Christian Burgess, 20 Matt Clarke, 3 Enda Stevens; 25 Nigel Atangana (29 Danny Hollands 71), 8 Michael Doyle (capt); 26 Gareth Evans, 11 Gary Roberts (7 Adam McGurk 90), 23 Kyle Bennett; 9 Matt Tubbs (17 Jayden Stockley 69). Substitutes (not used): 1 Paul Jones (gk), 4 Adam Webster, 19 Conor Chaplin, 38 Brandon Haunstrup.
Booked: Davies 23, Stockley 71, Hollands 83, Murphy 90.
Referee: Stephen Martin.
Attendance: 11,476 (1,719 away).