Pompey 1 QPR 1

Matty Kennedy. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey 1 Southend 0: They said what

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It says a lot for Pompey’s recent resurgence that they were so furious to be denied a victory against the unbeaten Championship leaders.

A sickener of a stoppage-time penalty decision that looked harsh on the naked eye – and looked downright stupid with a ball imprinted on Liam Lawrence’s naked torso – was the only thing to stop Steve Cotterill’s side becoming the first team this season to lower the colours of QPR.

Lawrence had the red mark to prove it.

But it was the officials who probably had the red faces by the end of the night.

The midfielder’s rage in the ensuing arguments after the penalty was given, as he showed all and sundry his red ribs, earned him a second yellow – both for dissent – followed by a card to match the colour of the mark on his chest.

In truth, it would have been a harsh decision even if it had struck his arm from such close range as former Pompey man Tommy Smith attempted to make the cross.

At the centre of it again was referee Gavin Ward, who is an official so unpopular that he reportedly has a Facebook page labelling him as the ‘worst referee’ in the Football League.

It had 654 members late last night.

Chances are that there will be a few more when he wakes up.

On this occasion, it wasn’t his fault as he didn’t actually give the penalty that Smith subsequently tucked away.

But it was his tell-tale body language that showed a man caught in the glare of indecision as his assistant with the flag made the call.

As hard to take as the decision was, Lawrence will now be regretting his outburst as he serves a ban that rules him out of Saturday’s home clash with Doncaster Rovers – another blow for Steve Cotterill’s increasingly depleted squad.

Considering he only joined in August, Lawrence has become a central figure for Pompey and will be a big miss on Saturday.

But the former Stoke man had a busy night in a tight contest between two evenly-matched sides that Pompey just about deserved to shade on the balance of play.

The fact that Cotterill’s side were 1-0 up as the game went into stoppage time was perhaps as open to debate as the decision that was given against them in the dying embers of the contest.

There can be no argument about the decision to award Pompey’s spot kick in the 71st minute as Dave Kitson was hauled down by Matt Connolly when through on goal.

Red card and a penalty. No question.

But QPR keeper Paddy Kenny made an excellent full-length save to push Lawrence’s first effort away from his bottom corner, only for the spot kick to be re-taken after the referee’s assistant deemed the Irishman to have moved off his line too quickly.

Rangers boss Neil Warnock came into the post-match press conference armed with a laptop and the footage of the incident to show Kenny’s feet were still on his line as the ball was struck.

Whether Warnock was also about to log on to sign up to a certain Facebook page is open to question.

But with Lawrence given his second chance, he made no mistake as he went for power and drilled home the opener to seemingly put Pompey on course for victory.

It was no more than the Blues deserved after a performance that bore no resemblance to the opening 45 minutes at Pride Park on Saturday.

At Derby, Pompey were hustled off the ball, their passing was nowhere near what it should have been and there were gaping holes in their defence.

Just three days later and they looked back to the side that had enjoyed such a fruitful recent run of form.

Cotterill hinted he might have got his selection wrong at Derby, with so many positional changes.

But he clearly had Kanu in mind for this one and the veteran Nigerian striker didn’t disappoint in his first start since the 4-1 defeat at Crystal Palace back in September.

The ageless African’s sprinting days are long gone.

But the touch, control, vision and class are still there in abundance as he dominated the opening to the contest and surprisingly lasted almost the entire game.

Whether he can still walk today is another matter.

Kanu’s countryman, John Utaka, was also in the mood in one of his best performances in a Pompey shirt, and so nearly put his side ahead with what would have been a fabulous strike.

Utaka’s pace had already troubled QPR defender Kyle Naughton but as the half-hour mark approached, he burst in from the left flank and unleashed a thunderous drive that left the helpless Kenny’s crossbar wobbling for a good few seconds afterwards.

His effort was the closest either side had come to the breakthrough, with only Kanu’s deflected effort causing concern for either goalkeeper in a cagey opening period.

But it was Cotterill’s side who looked the more threatening, with QPR talisman Adel Taarabt the only one worth worrying about.

Jamie Ashdown was forced into an excellent brave stop 10 minutes into the second period as he blocked Rob Hulse’s close-range header from Smith’s cross.

But it was Pompey who grabbed the lead as some clever skill and a perfect little pass from Kanu slipped Kitson through.

And while Lawrence thought he had delivered the killer blow after being

handed a reprieve, little did he know he would have another telling hand in the final outcome.

Perhaps things evened themselves out in the grand scheme of things, with Kenny denied his save.

But conceding a stoppage-time penalty equaliser never gets any easier to stomach, especially under such controversial circumstances.