Matt 83, Wylde 86
By Chris Groves
Late drama seems to be all the rage in football right now.
Argyle produced what could go down as one of the great comebacks as they scored two late goals to defeat Portsmouth 2-1 - and get their promotion push back on track.
Pompey were on course to complete a double over the Greens with ten minutes to play, courtesy of a single goal from Michael Smith after 37 minutes. However, two goals in the final ten minutes, courtesy of Jamille Matt and Gregg Wylde, turned the tie.
After weeks of frustration, playing well and getting beaten, this was a welcome change of fortune for the Pilgrims, who in truth have played better lately and come away with nothing.
It was also a dent for Pompey’s own hopes, and with favourable results away, this season has sprung dramatically back to life.
Injuries to a pair of full backs enforced the two changes that Derek Adams made to his side from the 2-1 defeat to AFC Wimbledon. Gary Sawyer and Jordon Forster were replaced by Ben Purrington and Kelvin Mellor, whilst Reuben Reid, who was sidelined for last week's game, was fit enough to make the bench. Pompey, meanwhile, were able to name an unchanged line-up for the fourth game running; an understandable decision from boss Paul Cook, considering their last three games had resulted in wins, with nine goals scored in the process.
A pair of reporters in the press box before the game could be heard calling this game a 'must win' and an 'all or nothing' affair. Whilst the hyperbole may make those statements rather unrealistic, there is no doubt that this was a massive game. Two sides holding a place in the Sky Bet League 2 play-off places, holding genuine hopes of automatic promotion, as well as a belief that their stature warrants a little more than fourth-tier football.
It took the Greens fewer than four minutes to frighten Portsmouth's back line. Good work from Graham Carey on the right flank earned a corner which the Irishman whipped into the near post. There it was met by his countryman Carl McHugh, who flicked a deft header across goal and onto the far post - making it consecutive games that Argyle have hit the woodwork early on.
Five minutes later, the early pressure from the visitors continued, as a Jake Jervis corner found Peter Hartley, but his header was hurriedly cleared off the line. Pompey quickly responded as Gary Roberts picked out Enda Stevens with a superb, cross-field pass, but the left back could not find a way past Luke McCormick from a tight angle.
Referee Chris Sarginson was called into action in the 19th minute, as a long ball from Christian Burgess found its way over the Argyle back four. Luke McCormick came to gather but was adjudged to have done so just outside of his box, and despite the cries of red from the Fratton Park faithful, just a yellow was brandished.
A frenetic start, then, and Cook's side began to turn up the heat some more, as Gary Roberts got on the end of a long goal kick before looping a curled effort narrowly over McCormick's crossbar. The pressure was kept on Argyle's defence and it produced the opening goal after 37 minutes: a clever cross from Stevens took a bounce in a penalty area before Michael Smith cleverly guided his header past McCormick to give his side the lead.
The Park was bouncing, and Argyle's habit of falling behind despite an encouraging performance was striking again. The score-line remained the same as the sides headed into half-time, but Adams was now tasked with finding a way to push his side on for an equaliser, against a side with a penchant for running up the score on opponents in recent weeks.
Jed Wallace scored for Portsmouth straight after the resumption of the second half in this fixture last season, and Pompey were keen to repeat the feat. More heavy pressure led to Stevens cross that was scuffed clear by Hartley, allow Matt Clarke to step forward from defence and lash a shot just past the far post.
Argyle continued to match the hosts for desire and effort, but seemed unable to get behind their opponents or achieve sustained possession near their goal. Gregg Wylde was brought on to change this, allowing Graham Carey to play more centrally and immediately forcing a full-stretch save from Paul Jones with a 25-yarder.
The introduction of Reuben Reid with just more than ten minutes to play then saw Adams switch to a 3-5-2 setup, but balls forward to Jamille Matt were not sticking nearly enough to see that switch ask questions of any real significance to Portsmouth. The passes kept on coming though, and with six minutes to go, Matt latched onto one in the right channel to force a corner. Carey's high corner fell right on top of Jones, who had been excellent in that area all afternoon. This time, though, Matt met him and wanted it more, nodding into an empty net.
The wind was in the sails of the Pilgrims. Fratton Park would have been at its quietest all afternoon if the 2,405 members were not at their deafening best. The ball was gravitating towards them as Argyle headed their way, and the comeback was completed three minutes later. Carey dropped onto the right flank, and his dangerous ball came through to Wylde, who controlled, swivelled and fired past Jones.
Argyle were on the receiving end of late goals against both Exeter City and AFC Wimbledon in recent weeks, but this time, it was their turn to pull a rabbit out of the hat, and move to just one point outside of the division's top three places.
Four to go. Bring on the Orient.
Portsmouth (4-1-4-1): 1 Paul Jones; 2 Ben Davies (19 Conor Chaplin, 89), 6 Christian Burgess, 20 Matt Clarke, 3 Enda Stevens; 8 Michael Doyle (capt); 29 Danny Hollands, 7 Adam McGurk (26 Gareth Evans, 66), 11 Gary Roberts (Marc McNulty, 74) , 23 Kyle Bennett; 21 Michael Smith. Substitutes (not used): 4 Adam Webster, 14 Kal Naismith, 24 Brian Murphy (gk), 33 Ben Close.
Bookings: Doyle 48, Burgess 61.
Argyle (4-5-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 16 Ben Purrington (11 Gregg Wylde 70); 14 Jake Jervis (9 Reuben Reid 78), 32 Jordan Houghton, 4 Carl McHugh, 20 Hiram Boateng, 10 Graham Carey; 19 Jamille Matt. Substitutes (not used): 15 Tyler Harvey, 24 Louis Rooney, 26 Jordan Bentley, 27 Craig Tanner, 31 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Bookings: McCormick 19, McHugh 35, Hartley 50.
Referee: Chris Sarginson
Attendance: 18,423 (2,405 away)