Portsmouth 4-1 Rochdale
POMPEY have their promotion fate back in their own hands after recording their fifth straight league win as Sunderland were beaten at home by Coventry.
Portsmouth were, in the end, comfortable winners, going two up at the interval thanks to an Oli Hawkins header and a Brett Pitman penalty before a second half fightback saw Aaron Wilbraham score for Rochdale.
The visitors’ goal stung Kenny Jackett’s men back into life and goals for substitute Gareth Evans and Jamal Lowe made the game safe.
The win and Sunderland’s defeat thanks to former Pompey man Conor Chaplin means if Portsmouth win their five remaining games – including a trip to the Stadium of Light – they will be back in the Championship for the first time since 2012.
Automatic promotion appeared a distant hope just a couple of weeks ago but it is now firmly back in the players’ and Jackett’s sights.
Jackett made one change from the side that won 3-2 at Wycombe with Evans dropping to the bench and Ronan Curtis coming into the starting XI.
Hawkins had a good early chance but could only direct his header from Lee Brown’s free-kick straight at Josh Lillis in the away goal. The striker, however, didn’t have to wait too much longer to plant a header past the Rochdale keeper, opening the scoring in the 21st minute after good work down the right from Jamal Lowe.
Lowe himself had the chance to put Pompey two up soon after but Lillis was equal to his effort at goal.
However hard Jackett may insist that he and the Pompey players were fully focused on their game, there was sure to have been one eye on events at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland’s draw in midweek at home to Burton boosted Pompey’s promotion hopes but the Wearsiders’ defeat against Coventry on Saturday was even sweeter.
By half-time Pompey were well on their way to recording their sixth straight win as Nathan Thompson was upended by Ethan Ebanks-Landell – no question marks over the penalty – with Pitman sending Lillis the wrong way from the spot.
Rochdale, however, reminded Pompey they were fighting for their League One lives with Tom Naylor forced to block an Ethan Hamilton effort on the half hour.
Despite the two-goal advantage, Jackett would have expected a response from Dale in the second half and the visitors were back in the game within ten minutes of the restart.
A quick break down the right saw Ryan McLaughlin play in Matt Done in the box, the striker turning to set up Wilbraham to slot past MacGillivray.
The goal stung Pompey and, like last week against Wycombe, they reacted to go further ahead. Lowe was again the creator with Evans – brought on to replace the ineffective Curtis – this time the beneficiary, heading home from five yards out.
Man of the match Lowe rounded off the scoring by getting on the end of a long ball from Brown before rounding Lillis and coolly slotting home.
Brown himself missed a great chance to score his first Pompey goal when Lowe returned the compliment and set him up, but the win was already secured.
Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Brown; Naylor, Close; Lowe, Pitman (Morris 81mins), Curtis (Evans 57); Hawkins (Bogle 76). Subs (not used): Bass (gk), Walkes, Haunstrup, Dennis.
Rochdale (4-3-3): Lillis; McLaughlin, McNulty, Ebanks-Landell, Bunney (Williams 67mins); Hamilton, Camps, Rathbone (Clough 81); Henderson, Wilbraham, Done (Inman 76). Subs (not used): Wade (gk), Dooley, Andrew, Keohane.
Referee: Lee Swabey