Plymouth 1 Pompey 0 '“ Neil Allen's match report
That familiar late heartbreak struck once more as Pompey finally bid farewell to promotion.
The Blues’ top-three progress this season had been persistently checked by goals arriving in stoppage-time of matches.
Last night that weakness finally proved decisive as Plymouth’s Peter Hartley throttled their play-off aspirations.
In two minutes of time added on at Home Park, Graham Carey swung in a corner from the right and there was the central defender to bundle the ball in at the far post with his shoulder.
It was enough to settle a tight affair in the hosts’ favour – exactly the same 3-2 aggregate scoreline as Pompey’s previous play-off excursion 23 years ago against Leicester.
Paul Cook’s men, shorn of two first-half injuries, had come under increasing pressure as the second period wore on, with Jamille Matt, that villain of the first leg, twice going close.
With 89 minutes on the clock, Jake Jervis struck a post with a header, while in the build-up to the crucial corner goalkeeper Ryan Allsop tipped Matt’s header over the bar.
Yet stoppage-time goals have been a continual Achilles heel for the Blues this season – Morecambe, Stevenage and Exeter to name but a few.
And once more the outcome sunk Pompey to their knees, six years since their last Wembley visit in the 2010 FA Cup final.
When the final whistle sounded, the fans invaded the same pitch trampled on by the Fratton hordes 33 years earlier when Alan Biley won the Blues the Division Three title.
Emotional scenes back them – and last night how the jubilant Pilgrims supporters celebrated.
After 282 days and 48 games, Pompey’s season is now over, condemned to spend a fourth campaign in the bottom tier of the Football League.
This time joined by Grimsby, Cheltenham and Blackpool as Cook will be handed a second opportunity at escaping League Two.
His team will require tinkering during the summer, yet the heartache of last night will linger for considerably longer.
Regardless, the Fratton faithful have become constant companions with agony in recent times.
They will again rise – no question of that. It will take a while longer, however.
The Blues kept the same side which shared a 2-2 draw at Fratton Park on Thursday night in a thrilling first-leg battle.
That meant Adam Barton continued in the centre of defence alongside Christian Burgess, while Ryan Allsop was once more the only goalkeeper in the squad.
The only change to the match-day 18 was the return of Conor Chaplin from injury after two games out.
He replaced Conor Wilkinson on the bench, with Cook preferring to stick with the attacking players who had taken Pompey to the play-offs.
Plymouth also kept faith with those who secured Thursday’s draw, sticking with the same starting line-up and substitutes’ bench at Home Park.
With Matt not given a retrospective red card following his headbutt on Michael Doyle, he was given the all-clear to remain.
The Blues kicked off the fixture, yet it was the hosts who had the first attempt on goal in the opening 30 seconds.
Matt burst forward and fired a 30-yard shot comfortably over the bar into the visiting Pompey followers.
On two minutes Allsop was called into a save when Carey delivered an effort from long range which the keeper palmed wide for the match’s first corner.
Danny Hollands fouled Carl McHugh in the eighth minute, with Carey driving the subsequent 25-yard free-kick well wide of the target.
The visitors had their first attempt on goal on 11 minutes when Kyle Bennett found himself with the ball inside the opposition penalty area.
The winger twisted and turned for an opening, before firing a shot into the near-post side-netting, with some fans mistakenly cheering for a goal.
Then a long kick from Allsop following an offside call gave Marc McNulty a sniff – but the angle was always tight and his shot was comfortably dealt with by Pilgrims keeper Luke McCormick.
A period of threatening play from the hosts then saw Carey felled by Bennett on the edge of the area, after Allsop had punched the ball clear.
The midfielder stepped up to take the free-kick, only to curl his left-foot attempt easily wide of the far post.
Pompey were steadily beginning to dictate play and on 27 minutes a sustained period saw McNulty presented with the ball, only to crash his right-foot shot wide.
McHugh earned the first booking of the game on 28 minutes following a challenge on Gareth Evans, which forced the midfielder off with damage to his left foot.
He was replaced by Adam McGurk, who slotted into the left of the attacking three, with Bennett going across to the right-hand side.
The match was evenly poised and on 37 minutes Bennett collected McGurk’s lay-off outside the box to drag a right-foot shot wide.
The Blues were forced into a second substitution on 44 minutes when Hollands hobbled off, to be replaced by Ben Close as one of the holding midfielders.
The fourth official indicated four minutes of time added on, safely seen out to the interval without any more Pompey injuries, with the scoreline goalless.
Cook’s men restarted the game brightly, with Hartley blocking Gary Robert’s shot and then McGurk driving an attempt straight at McCormick.
On 52 minutes, the home keeper’s poor clearance fell to Roberts down the right and his attempt to curl the ball left-footed into an unguarded net flew wide of the far post.
The Blues had a real let off on 58 minutes when Doyle slid in and succeeded only in poking the ball through to Matt inside the box.
The big striker took a touch and, from the angle, rifled a right-foot shot over the bar with only Allsop to beat when he should have done far better.
Carey then won a cheap free-kick down the left for a tug by Ben Davies as he surged past, but it came to nothing.
On 65 minute Carey’s corner from the right was met with a Matt header that went wide when again he should have at least tested the keeper as the hosts continued to threaten.
McNulty was then the unlikely saviour on his own goal line when a corner came in from the right and ricocheted off Barton, before hitting the striker on the post and being cleared.
At the other end, Bennett’s corner from the left found its way to Close at the far post, yet his snapshot whistled over the bar.
On 89 minutes Jervis could not believe he hadn’t broken the deadlock when his free header from substitute Craig Tanner’s right-wing cross struck the post and bounced to safety.
A minimum of two minutes of time added on was indicated by the fourth official as everyone prepared for extra-time.
But then Hartley intervened at the far post to break Pompey’s heart.
League Two it is next season – the promotion campaign starts all over again.