Portsmouth 1-1 Bristol Rovers
It may have been a fourth league game without defeat, but the more telling stat for promotion-chasing Pompey was game number seven without a win, and another two points dropped against a side struggling at the wrong end of League One.
Bristol Rovers came to frustrate Portsmouth and did exactly that, helped by referee Neil Hair who handed two dubious penalties to the visitors – one scored by Jonson Clarke-Harris and another fired over the bar after Kenny Jackett’s men were handed a lifeline with an own goal from Rovers’ James Clarke.
The real issue was the lack of chances created against a side that came to Fratton Park level on points with second-bottom Bradford City, but could have left the south coast with a win.
Pompey dropped to fourth spot after Sunderland’s win over Gillingham, and they are now five points behind Barnsley in second spot. Automatic promotion is looking a distant prospect with a worrying lack of confidence in both defence and attack.
The pain of surrendering a three-goal lead at Southend was clearly still on the players’ minds and Jackett opted to bring Gareth Evans into his starting XI.
Gone was the attacking 4-4-2 despite seeing his side take a 3-0 lead in the opening half hour of Saturday’s disappointing 3-3 draw at Roots Hall.
Jackett reverted to his preferred 4-2-3-1 as Bogle, Bryn Morris and Viv Solomon-Otabor dropped to the bench – Evans joining Ronan Curtis and Tom Naylor, who was back from suspension, in the starting XI.
A dead leg picked up by Bogle at Southend may have played a part in his omission, and it was one of those coming into the team that showed early jitters.
Naylor played a sloppy ball inside allowing Alex Jakubiak to pick up possession on halfway and break to the edge of the box. Craig MacGillivray appeared to have his weak effort covered but managed to let the ball squirm out of his hands and was thankful to see Matt Clarke put the ball behind for a corner.
Quality was particularly thin on the ground in the opening half hour with Pompey seemingly happy to gift possession to their opponents knowing Rovers would return the favour.
Just before the half hour mark Ronan Curtis thought he’d beaten the offside trap to run onto Oli Hawkins flick, but as his lobbed effort bounced back off the post the assistant referee flagged for offside.
With the game seemingly drifting aimlessly, Rovers were handed the chance to open the scoring with a controversial penalty in the 36thminute. Good work from Liam Sercombe coming in from the right allowed him to play the ball into Clarke-Harris in the box.
The striker appeared to be going nowhere but as Naylor went to challenge, he hung his left leg towards the Pompey midfielder and threw himself to the floor. It seemed a clear case of a player looking for a penalty and, unfortunately, he found a referee willing to give it to him.
The striker got up and sent MacGillivray the wrong way from the spot.
Frustrations were growing on the Portsmouth side with repeated fouls from the Rovers players that were going unpunished – but just as worrying for Pompey fans was the fact that they were being out-fought by Rovers.
Bogle was on at half-time with Hawkins making way – a change in personnel rather than formation.
Rovers were certainly making the Pompey players aware of their presence, with Jamal Lowe and Curtis on the receiving end of hefty challenges early in the second half.
Jackett’s men needed Bogle to make his presence felt and he did just that around the hour mark forcing Rovers defender Clarke to divert Curtis’s ball past Jack Bonham for an equaliser – a gift for the home side that was gratefully received.
If gifts were being handed out then the referee Neil Hair was the present-giver in chief.
A few minutes after going level Rovers broke into the box with James Clarke going down cheaply under Lowe’s challenge. Hair’s whistle was straight to his lips for the penalty and Lowe was in the book. This time, however, Clarke-Harris blazed his effort over the bar – horrible for him but sheer joy for the Fratton Park fans.
Jackett sent James Vaughan on with clear instructions to put himself about and he seemed happy to oblige – Tom Lockyer clashing with the on loan forward on several occasions.
With two in attack the one thing that was needed was good service, and that was the one thing that was lacking.
Lee Brown fluffed a chance late on after Curtis’s effort fell to him in the box and Bogle fired over after creating a chance for himself with some good work on the edge of the area. There was to be no late winner for Pompey and in all honesty they didn’t deserve one.
Pompey (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Walkes, Burgess, Clarke, Brown; Close, Naylor; Lowe (Solomon-Otabor 79mins), Evans (Vaughan 66), Curtis; Hawkins (Bogle 46). Subs (not used): Bass (gk), Haunstrup, Morris, Donohoe.
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2): Bonham; Partington, Lockyer, Craig, Clarke; Sercombe, Upson, Ogogo, Holmes-Dennis (Sinclair 85mins); Jakubiak (Reilly 77), Clarke-Harris. Subs (not used): Smith (gk), Kelly, Lines, Matthews, Nicholls.
Referee: Neil Hair