Burton Albion 1-2 Portsmouth
MATT Clarke bundled home an injury-time winner as Pompey made it six wins in a row to keep alive their hopes of automatic promotion.
It was a far from vintage performance by Kenny Jackett’s men but they dug deep to soak up sustained second half pressure from Burton before hitting them with a late winner.
Controversy surrounded the goal with Brewers’ players screaming for a handball by Nathan Thompson as the ball zipped around the box before Clarke fired home from eight yards.
In truth a draw would have been a fair result but the near-1300 Pompey fans couldn’t care less as they celebrated the efforts of the defensive lynchpin that allowed Portsmouth to take all three points.
Pompey went ahead through a great Ben Close first half strike but Burton deservedly drew level after the break before Clarke’s heroics.
Nigel Clough’s side showed why they are one of the league’s form teams, unbeaten in five games coming into the clash which included a 3-1 win over Barnsley and a 1-1 draw at Sunderland.
They were forced to replace regular No.1 Bradley Collins after he suffered a groin injury, Stephen Bywater stepping up. The 37-year-old comes very much into the journeyman category, boasting 14 league clubs since his debut for Rochdale back in 1997, and a stint playing in India. He was making his first start since August last year and his first few touches indicated a degree of ring-rustiness.
At the other end Burton showed why they are such dangerous opposition – Liam Boyce getting the first real chance in the 11th minute after Pompey failed to clear John Brayford’s ball in but the striker could only direct his effort straight at Craig MacGillivray.
Chances were limited in the opening half hour with both sides wary of the other’s strengths, but Pompey showed why they are the league’s number one form team in the 31stminute, Close cracking a superb opener.
The ball was played into the midfielder’s path on the edge of the area by Thompson, and without breaking stride he curled a first-time effort beyond Bywater.
Burton’s response was to continue to pressurise MacGillivray’s goal and the keeper was thankful to the players in front of him on two occasions before the interval – the ball pinging round the box before the defence scrambled clear.
The half-time message from Jackett would no doubt have highlighted how dangerous Burton remained, and whether the players took on board the message was unclear because within three minutes of the restart the Brewers were level.
It was all a little too easy for the home side as Colin Daniel was given space to play the ball in and Boyce all too easily headed home.
Burton were in the ascendancy for the next 15 minutes but Pompey still managed to test Bywater, Christian Burgess’s header from Evans’ free-kick tipped over by the Burton keeper.
But MacGillivray was the busier of the two No.1s saving from Lucas Akins and the impressive Stephen Quinn.
Clough was clear that his side should push on for more goals, urging his side to press forward and force Pompey on to the back foot.
The Brewers were showing exactly why both Sunderland and Barnsley found them uncomfortable opponents and Pompey needed to weather the home side’s second half storm and hope they could engineer a chance to snatch all three points.
With 13 minutes left Jackett threw Ronan Curtis on, hoping he could prove his manager wrong for dropping him to the bench. And it was Curtis who delivered the cross that led to the winner from Clarke in the 92nd minute.
Burton Albion (4-3-3): Bywater; Brayford, Wallace, McFadzean, Daniel; Allen, Fraser (Hutchinson 85), Quinn (Fox 81mins); Harness (Miller 85), Boyce, Akins. Subs (not used): Hawkins (gk), McCrory, Bradley, Clarke.
Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Brown; Naylor, Close; Lowe, Pitman (Morris 62mins), Evans (Curtis 76); Hawkins (Bogle 61). Subs (not used): Bass (gk), Walkes, Haunstrup, Solomon-Otabor.
Referee: Craig Hicks