Pompey 2 AFC Wimbledon 1: Neil Allen's match report
There had never been any suggestion of Brett Pitman abdicating his crown as Pompey's spot-kick king.
And sure enough, the skipper stepped up to sink AFC Wimbledon amid an incessant Boxing Day downpour.
Earlier in the month, Pitman had seen a penalty saved at The Valley in a fixture the Blues won irrespective of such a disappointment.
Yesterday Kenny Jackett’s men were handed a 71st-minute opportunity to regain their lead against the Wombles.
Barry Fuller’s handling of Pitman while the Blues striker attempted to receive Gareth Evans’ right-wing delivery prompted referee Craig Hicks to point to the spot.
Duties were resumed by Pitman – and it yielded a 13th goal of the season for the skipper.
It represented a first goal since mid-November for Pompey’s leading marksman – an absence from the scoresheet also influenced by injury.
On this occasion it was also the match-winner in a hard-fought triumph over the League One strugglers in front of a bumper festive crowd of 18,644.
The Blues had taken the lead of the stroke of half-time when Ben Close drove home right-footed from outside the box for his maiden Fratton Park goal.
That lit up an awful first half in which both sides struggled to retain possession and too many passes were hoisted forward with no target intended.
Yet on 50 minutes the match was all square when a handball was given against Christian Burgess as he attempted to clear his lines.
Lyle Taylor comprehensively finished from the penalty spot and with it raised the decibels of the Fratton faithful.
Then came the second penalty of the match – also dispatched by Pitman – and Pompey had quickly rediscovered winning ways following defeat at Shrewsbury Town.
In the process, they returned to seventh spot in League One – adrift of the play-offs purely through goal difference.
Jackett had recalled Conor Chaplin to his side – a move which represented the sole change to the team which lost at the Shrews before Christmas.
Matty Kennedy made way for the striker, also prompting a reshuffle of the attacking three, with Chaplin operating behind Pitman.
Jamal Lowe moved to the left, with Gareth Evans – who had served as the number 10 at New Meadow – returning to his familiar role on the right.
In turn, Kennedy dropped to the bench as Jackett retained the same match-day 18 which travelled to Shropshire for that 2-0 defeat.
Kal Naismith was once again sidelined by a bruised knee, joining longer-term casualties Jack Whatmough and Milan Lalkovic in the treatment room.
Meanwhile, AFC Wimbledon named ex-Pompey winger Andy Barcham in their starting line-up, although Paul Robinson was ruled out with a back injury.
The Wombles retained the same side which clinched an impressive 2-1 victory over Bradford City in their previous outing.
Pompey almost gifted the visitors an early opener after just two minutes when Nathan Thompson sold Danny Rose short on a pass.
Tom Soares intercepted and slid a pass down the middle for Cody McDonald as Blues keeper Luke McGee came racing out.
However, the ball was slightly overhit and McGee jumped over it as McDonald slid in vain to prevent it running out for a goal-kick.
At the other end, Close flighted a free-kick from the right into the box and Burgess’ header flashed wide – only for the referee to award a foul.
Soares became the first player to enter the book when, on 10 minutes, he cynically tripped Lowe as the winger sped by for a counter-attack.
The was little quality on display but on 16 minutes Chaplin pounced to strike a fierce first-time left-foot shot from 30 yards, which had George Long grasping above his head to take at the second attempt.
Long was drawn into another save on 31 minutes when Chaplin’s ball found its way to Lowe in the box and he helped it on towards goal only for the keeper to block low down.
The half had been instantly forgettable, although with the interval approaching Pitman went down under an aerial challenge in the box as he attempted to meet Thompson’s centre. Appeals for a penalty were ignored, though.
Yet the deadlock was broken on the stroke of half-time through Close.
The ball found its way to the midfielder and he struck a low right-footed effort from outside the box which found the bottom left-hand corner.
There were no substitutions at the break but within five minutes of the restart the scores were level.
Referee Hicks adjudged Burgess had handled after the ball bounced up as he attempted to clear – a moment which drew an appeal from the visiting fans.
The match official took time to consider before pointing to the spot – with Taylor lashing the ball down the middle and into the roof of the net to give McGee no chance.
That equaliser raised the atmosphere, with the home supporters roaring the Blues on while targeting the match officials for criticism.
On the hour mark, Evans flung in a free-kick from the left which was headed out for a corner, while the resulting set-piece was met by the head of Matt Clarke but the keeper captured it.
Jackett made a double substitution on 66 minutes with Oli Hawkins and Kennedy replacing Chaplin and Lowe.
That switch saw Kennedy operate on the left of the attacking three, with Hawkins serving as the lone striker and Pitman dropping in behind.
Then on 71 minutes the Blues were handed their opportunity to regain the lead – which they gleefully accepted.
Evans drove in a dangerous cross from the right and Pitman tumbled to the turf under a challenge from Fuller as he rose to meet the ball.
The referee pointed to the spot, booking the Wimbledon skipper in the process, and Pitman made no mistake with a right-footed finish. Moments later, Kennedy turned the ball across the goal towards Pitman but a Wimbledon defender managed to nudge it behind before Pompey’s skipper could connect.
There was a scare for the Blues, however, on 77 minutes when Barcham created space down the left to fire a shot across the face of goal which somehow eluded a touch.
Yet Pompey managed to easily see out their victory to make it an enjoyable Boxing Day.