Pompey 2 - Doncaster Rovers 3

Pompey Ladies reserve team have been in superb form. Picture: Kwame Jantuah

Perfect 10 as Pompey Ladies reserves enjoy fine run

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A case for the defence? At the moment there simply isn’t any.

Pompey may have built their Championship revival on the assurance they have the capability to outscore opponents.

But it is their worrying ability to ship goals with frightening ease which is threatening to undermine it.

In fact, the argument is becoming increasingly compelling that if their defensive frailty isn’t sorted soon they will be looking down the table again and not up it.

A single damning statistic delivers the irrefutable truth that Pompey’s back line is derailing the club’s upwardly-mobile ambitions.

One clean sheet in the past 13 games tells its own story.

The latest chapter against Doncaster on Saturday saw three separate episodes of defensive mayhem which condemned the Blues to defeat.

It was those hat-trick of gaffes which killed what, in large parts, was a decent Pompey performance and ensured a stirring second-half comeback came to nothing.

The manner in which both Ibrahima Sonko and Greg Halford were taken out of the game by John Oster’s dummy for Doncaster’s opener was alarming.

James Hayter wasn’t about to pass up the freedom of the Pompey penalty area to set his side on their way after 15 minutes.

You can debate the legitimacy of Mustapha Dumbuya’s tackle on Michael Brown in the build-up to his side’s second goal, and the stud marks on the midfielder’s knee certainly give him a case for feeling hard done-by that no foul was awarded.

Again, though, the manner in which the heart of the Blues’ side was carved open had fans reaching for the panic button.

Begrudging it may be, but David Healy deserves the accolades for his killer instinct and the manner in which he settled the game after Pompey’s pulsating second-half comeback.

Captain Aaron Mokoena will not want to see how he was twice beaten in the build-up to the game’s decisive moment 10 minutes from time, however.

There is absolutely no doubt there will be a few video nasties shown at the Blues’ Eastleigh training base this week, as the analysis staff do their duty.

Cotterill and his team will be picking the bones out of the defensive mishaps, and doing all they can to put them to bed. It can’t go on as it is.

In between Doncaster goals came the kind of rousing fightback from Pompey which speaks of the team’s determination and never-say-die attitude.

Even at two down at the break, the feeling was if the Blues could at least ask the question of Sean O’Driscoll’s side, there was every chance a side who ship goals on their travels will crumble.

Pompey continued to knock on the door and, just as the dissenting gestures began to bubble to the surface, the breakthrough arrived.

It came from an unlikely but gladdening source, as Emsworth boy Joel Ward grabbed his first senior goal for his boyhood club in front of the Fratton end.

John Utaka’s increasingly-consistent approach play was the source of the strike, as he danced to the byline and made Ward’s job an easy one.

That hardened the conviction Pompey could turn things around, and hope that the three points could be harvested sprung eternal when David Nugent levelled eight minutes later.

The Scouser’s honesty led to him admitting it was his arm which got the decisive touch, but it was his hunger which forced the ball over the line under the attentions of Wayne Thomas after Neil Sullivan’s gaffe.

At that moment there looked to be only one winner, and those speculative punters who took the juicy odds on a Pompey win when two down at the break dared to look towards their tasty windfall.

It was a justified stance, too, with Cotterill’s battlers looking set to wash Doncaster away on a wave of irresistible football.

Nugent’s strike lifted the roof off Fratton Park but just as the Blues faithful dared to believe, their side’s defensive deficiencies reared its head again in gut-wrenching style.

Natural-born scorers like Healy can’t be given the kind of opportunity he was by Mokoena, as he was twice shrugged off by the Northern Irishman before emphatically settling the argument.

Pompey’s belief still couldn’t be quashed, though, and Utaka so nearly conjured a piece of magic which saw him dance through a sea of red and white shirts before firing wide while off-balance at the crucial moment.

So the stirring comeback everyone thought was written didn’t ink itself, as the weaknesses at the back finally proved terminal and rendered promising forward play meaningless.

All that did rear its head was frustration and anger, and that was what was behind Carl Dickinson’s reckless late lunge on James Hayter which produced the obligatory melee as fight night came early.

His dismissal was inevitable and the hope in the Pompey camp will be the ensuing dust-up as his temperature soared doesn’t deliver further censure when the referee’s report lands on the mat at FA Headquarters today.

There was a similar heat to Cotterill in the aftermath of game, as his barely-concealed fury erupted in the face of what he saw as a short delivery from a press man.

Cotterill wasn’t about to lift the lid on the scenes in his side’s dressing room at half-time and following defeat, but his simmering demeanour suggested it probably wasn’t a pleasant place to be.

Dickinson’s suspension ensures there will be a reshuffle at the back as Pompey bid to kick-start their campaign at Barnsley this weekend.

Maybe Ricardo Rocha will add some assurance at Oakwell, and could it be time for the Hermannator’s return?

A little extra nous and steel wouldn’t go amiss, because there is no defence for the kind of deficiencies which, if they continue, will ruin Pompey’s rebirth.