Southend United 3 Portsmouth 3
PORTSMOUTH saw a first half three-goal lead evaporate as they made it six league games without a win, putting a further dent in their automatic promotion hopes.
It should have been a first three-point haul since January 1 after goals from Bryn Morris, Ben Close and Oli Hawkins in the opening half hour gave them a 3-0 lead, only for Simon Cox to score a hat-trick and earn the Shrimpers a point.
They had two excellent chances to grab a fourth early in the second half before Cox made the pay for their profligacy in front of goal with a second 15 minutes from time from the penalty spot, and then a third with three minutes of normal time remaining.
The point did, however, move them back above Sunderland into third spot, but it was a bitter blow after looking in complete control after just 30 minutes of the game played.
There were plenty of changes in players and formation: Anton Walkes coming in at right-back for Nathan Thompson, with loan signing Viv Solomon-Otabor – who arrived from Birmingham on the last day of the transfer window – making his debut.
A more telling change was Jackett’s decision to opt for a more attacking 4-4-2 formation, Hawkins joining Omar Bogle in attack with two genuinely wide players in Solomon-Otabor and Lowe.
With Southend also playing 4-4-2 there was a whiff of nostalgia about the game being played in front of the TV cameras.
Pompey were looking to move back above Sunderland – the Wearsiders claiming third spot on Friday night after picking up a point in their 2-2 draw against Accrington Stanley – and end a winless run of five league games.
An early dangerous moment for Pompey produced an important intervention from Christian Burgess, with play quickly switching up the other end of the Roots Hall pitch that produced the opener for Pompey after just eight minutes.
Good work from Bogle allowed the striker to feed the galloping Lowe breaking down the right. Lowe, with a little to prove after a run of indifferent performances, produced a cross that Southend keeper Nathan Bishop could only parry into the path of Morris who smashed the ball into the roof of the net from close range for his first Portsmouth goal.
While the 1,200-plus away fans were still celebrating the opener, Pompey went two up – the goal scored by Close on his 100th appearance for the club, making it two in two after his strike in the draw at Plymouth last weekend.
Again the goal came from good work from their wide men, this time Solomon-Otabor on the left who carried the ball into the box before playing it inside for Lowe. His pass was half cleared with Close watching the ball expertly onto his right foot and firing home from the edge of the box.
With 20 minutes gone the Shrimpers defenders were struggling to cope with Pompey’s pace and power, and 35-year-old Michael Turner looked a shadow of the player Sunderland paid Hull £4m for a decade ago.
But the Portsmouth supporters couldn’t care less about Southend’s defence and they thought they were three up, only for Bogle’s effort to be ruled out for offside.
However, they didn’t have to wait too long for a third, and the early start for the Pompey faithful was proving well worth the effort as Hawkins grabbed his first since the win over Walsall in November.
Morris was played in on the right side of the box and his cross-shot hit the post with sloppy defending gifting the ball to Hawkins who couldn’t miss from six yards out.
With Pompey appearing in total control, Southend grabbed a route back into the game through Cox in the 36th minute, the striker heading home after Pompey failed to deal with a cross from the left.
Early in the second half Lowe had the chance to end any hopes Southend had for a comeback but hesitated in a three-on-one situation allowing the hosts’ keeper Bishop to claim the ball.
Chances were still coming for Pompey and a fourth would banish any semblance of nerves but despite the openings created they couldn’t find the net.
With 15 minutes left the nerves went into overdrive as Pompey again showed indecision at the back and Morris brought down Kightly and handed the home side a penalty – Cox sending MacGillivray the wrong way from the spot for his second of the game.
And the with less than four minutes of the game left the comeback for the home side was completed with Cox grabbing his third – again indifferent defending allowing him to complete his hat-trick after a through ball from Timothee Dieng.
Southend United (4-4-2): Bishop; Bwomono, Turner, Moore, Hart; Kightly (Wabo 82mins), Mantom (Hutchinson 73), Dieng; McLaughlin, Humphrys (Klass 25), Cox. Subs (not used): Smith (gk), Kiernan, Lennon, Kelman.
Pompey (4-4-2): MacGillivray; Walkes, Burgess, Clarke, Brown; Lowe (Vaughan 88mins), Close, Morris, Solomon-Otabor (Curtis 71); Bogle (Evans 75), Hawkins. Subs (not used): Bass (gk), Haunstrup, Casey, May.
Referee: Dean Whitestone