Doncaster 3 Pompey 4

Donny keeper Gary Woods just fails to stop Greg Halford's second penalty kick. Picture: Steve Reid (121306-1552)
Donny keeper Gary Woods just fails to stop Greg Halford's second penalty kick. Picture: Steve Reid (121306-1552)
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He was the most unlikely of Pompey heroes.

A much-maligned striker, cast aside by Blues boss Michael Appleton.

Axed a month ago, apparently never to return as a string of consistently below-par displays – performances which attracted boos from some of his own supporters – looked to have put paid to his season.

Yet at the Keepmoat Stadium, with Pompey within minutes of being discarded into League One, he bounced back.

On Saturday, Dave Kitson inspired the Blues to an unlikely triumph.

And with it, the substitute helped ensure Appleton’s men live to fight another day.

Those hopes of survival may well be demolished tomorrow evening when Crystal Palace visit, such is the precarious state of this relegation run-in.

Still, at 4.45pm League One was beckoning, a wretched and gutless first half was having the final say.

Portsmouth Football Club were poised to suffer the ignominy of becoming the first Football League team in the 2011-12 campaign to be relegated.

What’s more, their opposition and rock bottom Doncaster Rovers were the ones condemning them to such a fate in a 3-2 scoreline.

Then the match was turned on its head.

As the clock struck 90 minutes, Kitson leapt with keeper Gary Woods, a whirl of arms and legs amid soaring bodies inside a crowded six-yard box.

Somehow the ball entered the net, nudged home by hand or head, nobody was quite certain. More important for the visitors, the goal stood.

Appleton’s troops were level at 3-3 heading into five minutes of time added on.

And they hadn’t finished yet.

Kitson won an aerial battle to get on the end of Joel Ward’s cross, the ball fell to fellow substitute Marko Futacs and the Hungarian calmly stroked the ball home with his left foot for a winner three minutes into stoppage-time.

From being down and out and relegated, Pompey had ultimately cut the distance between them and Bristol City, who sit in relative safety.

With three matches left, the gap is down to seven points.

It’s still an improbable ask which requires the Robins to pick up no more than two points from their remaining three games.

In tandem, the Blues would have to beat Palace, Derby and Nottingham Forest – as well as relying on Coventry imploding spectacularly.

The scenario remains unrealistic, yet at least the flame of hope keeps flickering away in the face of such strong winds.

Not that the supporters are anticipating such a minor miracle.

For most, the home defeat against Millwall in the last Fratton Park outing effectively had the casting vote.

As ever, though, this is about the club not giving up without a fight – and the tremendous away following certainly were not ready to mourn.

A dozen or so Smurfs at the Keepmoat Stadium caught the eye on Saturday and almost 600 fans sung their hearts out throughout, with their team losing the vast majority of the time.

‘We are going down’ and ‘we’re all going on a League One tour’ was just some of the gallows humour displayed.

Many refused to leave the stadium long after the final whistle unless Appleton went out to meet them.

He ultimately obliged, even donning a Papa Smurf hat kindly handed over to him.

One suspects they would have behaved precisely the same for a South Yorkshire defeat.

Such actions were certainly not centred solely on celebrating a dramatic triumph.

Come the final whistle the Doncaster followers vented their anger at villain of the piece, match official Mike Russell.

As for the travelling contingent, their noise levels had remained constant throughout.

Not even the spectacle of seeing their team go two down inside the first five minutes had put the Fratton faithful out of their stride, much to the disbelief and admiration of many occupying the press box.

What an abject start to the penultimate away match of the campaign, too, as James Coppinger tore into the Blues.

On three minutes, the winger clipped a deep free-kick into the box and Habib Beye rose to send a header looping over Jamie Ashdown and into the net.

Just two minutes later, Coppinger crossed from the right and when Chris Brown’s close-range attempt was stopped, Fabien Robert was on hand to turn the ball home.

Only the crossbar stopped Dean Saunders’ men from going 3-0 up after eight minutes when Coppinger’s thumping volley ricocheted away to safety for Pompey.

The Blues improved, marginally, yet remained rocky at the back as a side without a home with since January 2 tore into them with relative ease.

Karim Rekik, in particular, was enduring a match to forget at the hands of Coppinger, ably backed up by right-back James O’Connor.

Yet it was Kelvin Etuhu who was hauled off on 28 minutes in favour of Kitson, who would go on to be Pompey’s catalyst. After the break, Ashley Harris also appeared, in place of Luke Varney, and suddenly the visitors had some crucial momentum.

Scott Allan struck the crossbar with a right-foot shot from distance – then Kitson took over.

The 32-year-old burst through the middle in the 59th minute and was clipped by Beye as he bore down on goal.

The Doncaster defender was given his marching orders – altough the location of the foul was debatable – and Halford netted from the spot.

It was 2-2 in the 65th minute when Kitson crossed from the left and David Norris’ shot was deflected away by the hands of O’Connor – Halford again netting from the spot. A mere two minutes later, however, Coppinger turned Rekik inside out and drove a shot through Jason Pearce and Ashdown to regain the lead.

News of Bristol City drawing at Birmingham meant a Pompey defeat would mean relegation.

That seemed to be the likely scenario as the game entered its 90th minute – until Kitson and Futacs dramatically intervened.