Middlesbrough 2 - Pompey 2

Pompey suffered defeat to Charlton. Picture: Joe Pepler

Gaffer: So predictable Pompey would suffer defeat

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At 4.44pm, Marc Wilson was making a last-minute appearance as a Stoke substitute.

Only his second Potters outing since making the deadline-day switch, the 22-year-old has found it difficult to make an early impact.

At precisely the same time 160 miles away, a makeweight in that Pompey deal was also on duty.

Except Liam Lawrence was inspiring his team-mates’ fightback to claim a 2-2 Middlesbrough draw.

It’s been a familiar sight for Blues fans, who have swiftly taken the Republic of Ireland international to their hearts.

With four goals in seven matches and several assists, Lawrence has proven to be a priceless acquisition.

Effectively he was too, with Pompey receiving Dave Kitson and a healthy £1.5m as part of that Wilson deal.

Talk about value for money down at Fratton Park.

Suddenly the Blues have seven points from their last three matches and are looking every inch a side which no longer will be in relegation trouble this season.

And pulling the strings has been that man Lawrence.

The 29-year-old’s energy, effort, commitment and, of course, abundant quality, has ensured he already has established himself as a firm favourite.

Pompey fans love a trier but Lawrence isn’t merely all about work-rate – there is a regular, outstanding end product, too.

On Saturday he was at it again, leading the fightback as the visitors clinched what had once appeared an unlikely point.

It was on 60 minutes when he flung in a pinpoint cross from the right which David Nugent headed home to reduce the deficit to 2-1.

Then when Aaron Mokoena was poleaxed by Barry Robson to earn the Blues an 88th-minute penalty, it was Lawrence stepping up again.

There was no contest in the inevitable outcome, as he crashed the ball past Jason Steele and wheeled away in celebration.

Around the same time, Wilson climbed off the bench to replace Matthew Etherington in Stoke’s 1-0 win against Blackburn.

It was the Irishman’s first appearance in four Potters matches – and only his second in 33 days at the Britannia Stadium.

Contrasting fortunes certainly and the other makeweight in that deal – Dave Kitson – has also enjoyed an impressive Fratton Park start.

Still, Lawrence is already proving to be one of the signings of the season at Championship level and just didn’t Pompey need his arrival.

If a manager lives and dies by his signings, Steve Cotterill should be granted the freedom of the city for bringing Lawrence and Kitson on board.

A goalscoring midfielder has long been glaringly absent under Pompey’s various managers over the past few years.

Yet suddenly they have found themselves one and the positive results are now flowing.

Of course, it should not be merely Lawrence who picks up the bouquets for Saturday’s comeback.

Neither should he be singled out for adulation for the previous two triumphs over Leicester and Bristol City.

Nonetheless, he is the outstanding performer at present in a Blues first team which is finally fulfilling its undoubted potential.

Cotterill’s men headed to Middlesbrough seeking a first away point of the season and still smarting from the previous Sheffield United injustice.

But they entered the break two goals down having dominated for the opening 30 minutes without ever really challenging the Boro keeper.

Earlier this season that would have signalled game over, time to accept the inevitable and run down the final 45 minutes.

Then again, this is a side rejuvenated, reformed, reinvented – and has Lawrence among its ranks.

In fairness, the half-time scoreline was exceedingly harsh on Cotterill’s troops, who were undone by nothing more than poor defending.

The first goal came in the 29th minute, albeit emanating from a poor decision given against Joel Ward for a alleged foul on Scott McDonald.

Kris Boyd’s free-kick was pushed superbly around the post by Jamie Ashdown and from the resulting corner the deadlock was broken.

Robson’s corner was only half-cleared and Matthew Bates had time and space to seize on the loose ball and lash it through a ruck of players and into the net.

That advantage was doubled on 42 minutes, this time through a stonewall penalty.

There can be no arguments over referee Neil Swarbrick’s decision against Ward, who clumsily bundled over McDonald as he controlled Gary O’Neil’s right-wing cross.

Certainly the Blues players – and later Cotterill – didn’t dispute it as Robson stepped up to crash the ball home.

Within 10 minutes of the interval restarting, Middlesbrough should have manoeuvred themselves out of sight.

The dangerous Boyd headed one Nicky Bailey cross straight at Ashdown before galloping clear to fire another chance past the far post.

Then Lawrence and Nugent combined in the 60th minute to throw Pompey a lifeline.

Suddenly, the Boro players and fans began to get nervy and the visitors once again established a foothold in the game.

Nonetheless, Ashdown did magnificently to somehow beat out Boyd’s vicious half-volley, while the striker headed Tony McMahon’s centre wide when well placed.

Then on 86 minutes came the moment which raised Pompey spirits and broke Boro hearts.

Lawrence’s corner was cleared and as substitute Leroy Lita launched a counter-attack, the referee’s attention was drawn to a prostrate Mokoena.

Stopping play, he ran over to consult his vigorously-flagging linesman for a lengthy discussion before pointing to the spot.

In the ensuing chaos, Stephen McManus was red carded in a case of mistaken identity, only for it to be later delivered to Robson.

Lawrence stepped up to do the rest with a confident finish to send the visiting faithful wild.

It was the former Mansfield man’s fourth goal in his last four matches, establishing him as Pompey’s top goalscorer so far this season.

Not bad for a makeweight in the deal for Marc Wilson.

And not bad for a player who didn’t make a single Stoke City squad this season before his Fratton Park switch.

Now Pompey truly are reaping the rewards as Lawrence plays his starring role.