Exeter 1 Pompey 1

Pompey's Jake Jervis scores the opening goal. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey's Jake Jervis scores the opening goal. Picture: Joe Pepler
Dion Donohue Picture: Jason Chadwick

Midfield could be the home for Pompey signing-in-waiting

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Trevor Carson lay motionless face down on the muddy turf, while some fans stood frozen in disbelief.

For a few seconds time stood still at St James Park as a collection of those present attempted to comprehend more late, late heartbreak.

Had referee Gary Sutton blown seconds earlier Pompey would have made the return trip with three excellent points.

It would have been back-to-back victories at the home of relegation rivals and a fifth clean sheet in the last nine matches.

As for Sonny Bradley, he would have been embracing the fans rather than getting involved in angry words amid claims he was the subject of an attempted assault.

A few seconds, all that was required, the separating line between sunshine and storms.

Instead Liam Sercombe’s deflected stoppage-time strike 40 seconds from the full-time whistle condemned the Blues to a familiar haunted feeling.

That wretched knock on the door has been heard many times before during the season so far. Saturday was visit number seven.

Under Guy Whittingham there was victory snatched away at Cheltenham, followed by non-decisive goals conceded at Burton, Oxford in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and AFC Wimbledon.

Andy Awford’s caretaker reign ended when Anthony Stewart levelled for Wycombe in time added on.

As for Barker – firstly there was Ryan Leonard’s stunning match-winner for Southend on New Year’s Day.

Then there was Exeter.

The Grecians had failed to score in six of their previous seven matches on home turf – during an alarmingly slip down the League Two table.

Flailing around while sucked into relegation waters, they even had to loan out top-scorer Alan Gow to Bristol Rovers in the build-up as a cost-cutting measure.

On Saturday, Carson had to pull off two telling first-half saves, while the hosts had a goal chalked out late on because of an offside flag.

But, as the match wore on, Paul Tisdale’s side looked increasingly unlikely to score against a defence magnificently marshalled by Ben Chorley and Bradley.

Bradley was only on the field following a knee injury to Joe Devera on the stroke of half-time – and turned in a dominant display.

Barker labelled it as the best 45 minutes he had seen from the youngster from Hull, just a shame it was overshadowed by late, late events.

Nonetheless, a winnable game from a winning position was thrown away in agonising circumstances to heap more misery on the ever-beleaguered Fratton faithful.

Not good enough in a season of unfulfilment – and with such results thoughts of the unthinkable inevitably grow.

It would be too easy to bandy around buzz words about a lack of effort, commitment and desire among the players being the root of all evils on such occasions.

Those present at St James Park will testify Ricky Holmes, Wes Fogden, Ryan Taylor and, to a large extent, Thery Racon ran themselves into the ground.

Such was Jake Jervis’ immense effort, he had to be substituted in the 80th minute because of cramp, although his body had seized up some five minutes before then.

Carson’s disappointment at conceding the equaliser was obvious, even if his face was buried in the ground for most of it.

Many of his team-mates were clearly shell-shocked at the final whistle, while the Bradley incident has already been well documented.

Hardly the actions of players going through the motions and possessing no interest in the results of the club they represent.

Granted, on Saturday they can be accused of losing concentration for Sercombe’s goal, a quick throw-in, runners not covered and suddenly it was 1-1.

Falling asleep at crucial and game-changing moments has long been a criticism of the Blues line-up this season, irrespective of who has been in charge of it and the personnel on the pitch.

Meanwhile, Taylor could be called into question having intercepted the ball following Artur Krysiak’s late mis-kick and being presented with an open goal.

The keeper managed to maintain close proximity to the Pompey striker, who proceeded to drag his angled shot into the side-netting.

Had he scored, there would have been an unassailable 2-0 advantage and the visitors would have had their three points.

Instead, the moment would ultimately prove to be vital – a miss which became more glaring once the final whistle sounded.

Even after that, substitute Andy Barcham broke down the left and fired in a low shot which Krysiak did well to hold. Patrick Agyemang was a split-second away from pouncing on a situation which would have left him an empty net. Yet more ifs and buts.

Of course, Pompey still had the lead at that point and as the Grecians’ desperation intensified they threw a centre-half into their attack to disrupt the visitors’ back-line.

Increasingly, Jervis’ ninth-minute strike and third goal in five games was appearing to be decisive in the outcome at Exeter.

That moment came about when Holmes was fouled by the left touchline and picked himself up to deliver the free-kick into the box towards the far post.

Chorley rose highest to head the ball back across goal and there was Jervis to finish from close range to maintain his encouraging start to his second stint at the club.

The half would see Carson acrobatically save Scot Bennett’s header, while he also somehow clawed away Sercombe’s deflected shot with Jimmy Keohane closing in on an empty net.

But these days this is a very 
different Blues defensive unit to the one which conceded at least two goals in six successive games during November.

Tangible proof indeed that Barker has made improvements to the set-up, even if victories number only two in 11 matches.

The result, however, was another draw and more points shed courtesy of a stoppage-time goal.

Still, in isolation, an away point at relegation rivals such as Exeter is something to be applauded and certainly encouraging.

However, as Barker found out against Torquay, it is almost trivial if you cannot follow up such results upon the return to Fratton Park.

Pompey need wins at home – at this stage not even draws can be accepted.

And with AFC Wimbledon next up a triumph is an absolute must.