Mansfield 2 Pompey 2

Tareiq Holmes-Dennis limps off injured against Rochdale. Picture: Joe Pepler

Injured Holmes-Dennis pays tribute to Pompey

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With his hands on his hips, Andy Barcham cut a disconsolate figure on the Field Mill pitch.

Nobody had contributed more in Pompey’s fight for victory under such heavy aerial bombardment from the direct hosts.

Yet when the curtain was brought down by referee Stephen Martin, the Blues were left with a solitary point and more defensive concerns.

Situated just outside the centre circle upon the final whistle, Barcham was bound to the spot – those feet which had dazzled and been so fleet finally brought to a halt.

The flying winger had never stopped driving forward against Mansfield.

He was Pompey’s dominant attacking figure and the scourge of a lumbering back three for the second successive match.

A maiden Blues goal and excellent assist will testify emphatically his input into Saturday’s proceedings.

Except there was much, much more to his performance than such statistics, no matter how pleasing they may be.

At times, Barcham is simply unplayable with the ball at his feet.

Mansfield was one of those occasions, as was Morecambe.

In fact, as have most of his performances during an outstanding Honeymoon period since moving to Fratton Park.

The 26-year-old has truly hit the ground running and emerged as the early frontrunner in terms of Guy Whittingham’s most outstanding recruit of the summer.

There he was, though, at Mansfield, deeply frustrated at Pompey’s failure to have captured all three points rather than leave content with a 2-2 draw.

After applauding more than 1,000 away fans with his team-mates, Barcham found solace in Patrick Agyemang – the pair last off the playing surface.

Agyemang was the sympathetic listening ear, while the winger was all shaking of head and frenetic gesticulation, the epitome of annoyance.

Whatever he said down there, he elected to keep his emotions in check when conducting the post-match interviews, restrained and affable yet unwilling to start pointing fingers at playing colleagues.

Not that those present at Field Mill needed enlightening upon the reason why Pompey failed to win, nor those who caught the television replays of the second goal for the hosts.

As Phil Smith later uttered via his personal Twitter account: ‘Terrible from me today sorry’.

Brutal honesty and hard to disagree with.

The fateful moment came in the 72nd minute when Ollie Palmer somehow hooked back a ball back from the byline which seemed destined to be heading out of play for a goal-kick.

As Smith backpeddled to claim, there appeared little danger – certainly there were few Stags players in his vicinity.

Yet the keeper managed to collide with both Joe Devera and Bondz N’Gala stationed at the far post, the ball squirming from his grasp as he did so.

Matt Rhead drove in a shot and Lindon Meikle nudged it home through the bodies on the line to register the equaliser.

Meikle had been on the pitch just five minutes, having replaced the injured Lee Beevers in an enforced substitution.

Nonetheless his contribution proved to be a crucial one.

Poor defending has blighted the Blues’ early season fixtures and after keeping a clean sheet in the home victory over Morecambe last weekend it reared its head once more.

Still, Whittingham had opted to make one change to the back line which remained unbreached the previous match, a tactical decision rather than one based on form.

Wary of the Stags’ physical presence and direct style of play, he dropped Yassin Moutaouakil and brought in N’Gala to strengthen his side both defensively and aerially.

That saw Devera move across to right-back with N’Gala partnering Sonny Bradley in the centre and Marcos Painter remaining at left-back.

Meanwhile, Romain Padovani kept his central midfield place despite Johnny Ertl’s return following a three-match suspension.

Not that Pompey’s revamped defence could do anything about Ben Hutchinson’s magnificent 33rd-minute opener.

The striker controlled Padovani’s prodded clearance on his chest before unleashing a tremendous right-foot volley from 25 yards which screamed past Smith in goal.

It was a strike of stunning quality from the former Celtic team-mate of Simon Ferry, who has yet to fulfil a potential which saw him once net for Middlesbrough in the Premier League.

Certainly it was out of context from Mansfield’s game plan – an approach centred on hitting the channels long and high, particularly down the left, to test the Pompey defence.

In the 39th minute, however, Barcham levelled in a well-worked move.

Agyemang fed Jed Wallace down the right and the youngster pulled the ball back for the Blues’ man-of-the-moment to crash it into the roof of the net.

Then just five minutes later the visitors found themselves in the lead, Barcham the creator.

The ex-Gillingham player embarked on a run from the halfway line, leaving several Stags players in his slipstream before drilling in a left-foot shot.

Keeper Alan Marriott saved low down but the ever-alert David Connolly was following up to steer his own left-foot shot into the net to make it four goals this season.

No League Two player has scored more than the 36-year-old so far this term.

And he once again wore the captain’s armband with regular incumbent Ertl on the bench.

The second-half was largely a non-event, with Pompey struggling to carve out sufficient goalscoring opportunities while having to combat the direct nature of the Stags’ play.

Not that Smith’s goal was particularly threatened and, despite lacking another goal to potentially finish matters, Whittingham’s side were comfortable with their lead.

That was until the 72nd minute when Smith made his awful error and the hosts suddenly found themselves back on level terms. Minutes later there was a concern for Pompey when Painter hobbled off with an injury, prompting another defensive reshuffle.

But it remained 2-2, making it three league games unbeaten since that opening-day loss to Oxford.

It could so easily have been three wins, with the Blues having let leads slip at Accrington and now Mansfield on their travels.

Once more the defence is being glared at – not just by Pompey supporters but also the ever-inspirational Barcham.