Walsall 2-3 Portsmouth
Portsmouth put the disappointment of their Saturday night defeat at Charlton behind them by getting back to winning ways at Walsall on Tuesday night.
Brett Pitman was handed his first league start since the 3-2 defeat at Luton Town in January, and responded in the best possible way with a first half goal from the penalty spot to put Pompey one up. The returning Omar Bogle was also on target as strugglers Walsall found Kenny Jackett’s side’s just a little too clinical at the Bescott.
Viv Solomon-Otabor seemed to put the game to bed after the break with his first for the club after an impressive move involving Pitman and Jamal Lowe, but Walsall hit back with two goals from Jon Guthrie – the second deep into injury time.
The importance of the win increased as Barnsley and Sunderland played out a 0-0 draw allowing Pompey to cut the deficit to the two sides above them by two points.
It was the first in a run of three games before the Checkatrade Trophy Final that Portsmouth need to take maximum points from to have any hope of challenging the top two. They have Scunthorpe and Shrewsbury coming up, so the win at the Bescott was essential to their hopes of automatic promotion.
Jackett made three changes from the side beaten by fellow promotion chasers Charlton with one enforced after Ronan Curtis suffering a bizarre injury. The winger suffered serious finger damage after reportedly trapping it in a door.
Pompey appeared eager to impose themselves on Walsall and they were helped by referee Trevor Kettle who handed them a rather soft penalty in the 13th minute, Morgan Ferrier adjudged to have pushed Nathan Thompson in the box. Pitman stepped up and sent Liam Roberts the wrong way from the spot for his eighth of the campaign.
By then Portsmouth had already seen Matt Clarke receive treatment for a head wound, and Bogle had an effort comfortably saved by Roberts.
Ferrier was handed a great chance to redeem himself in the 25th minute when Pompey’s defence went to sleep allowing him in on goal, only to be denied by Craig MacGillivray at the second attempt.
The miss looked a whole lot worse ten seconds later as MacGillivray’s long clearance ended with Bogle impressively lobbing Roberts from the edge of the box.
It appeared to be a third for the visitors in the 30th minute with Lowe capitalising on a quick free-kick to beat Roberts at the second attempt only for referee Kettle to make Pompey take the free-kick again; this time it came to nought.
Walsall still looked a dangerous on the break but when Pompey played the ball around midfield – Pitman impressing in a more withdrawn role – they looked a class above their opponents.
After the break Pompey did go three up when a well worked move saw Pitman release Lowe down the right, before he squared for Solomon-Otabor to coolly slot past Roberts.
Worrying defensive lapses by Jackett’s side allowed Guthrie to pull two goals back – the second after the ball pinged around the box late into injury time.
Walsall (4-3-3): Roberts; Devlin, Scarr, Guthrie, Leahy; Kinsella, Dobson Edwards (Blackett-Taylor 70); Ismail (Oteh 87), Gordon, Ferrier. Subs (not used): Dunn (gk), Fitzwater, Norman, Osbourne, Laird.
Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Brown; Naylor, Close; Lowe, Pitman (Walkes 86mins), Solomon-Otabor; Bogle (Vaughan 74). Subs (not used): Bass (gk), Haunstrup, Donohue, Evans, Hawkins.
Referee: Trevor Kettle