Pompey 1 Blackburn 2: Jordan Cross’ match report

Adam Armstrong opens the scoring for Blackburn. Picture: Robin Jones
Adam Armstrong opens the scoring for Blackburn. Picture: Robin Jones
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KENNY JACKETT has labelled it Pompey’s defining period of the season.

The Blues served notice they are up for the play-off fight this season with a battling effort against high-flying Blackburn.

Unfortunately, luck deserted Pompey in sickening fashion with three minutes remaining of an engaging night under the Fratton Park lights.

Two-goal Adam Armstrong was the lucky recipient as the ball ricocheted off Matt Clarke and into his path to allow him to gut-wrenchingly settle the game.

With a little fortune and certainty from their finishing, it could have been Pompey walking away with the points.

Conor Chaplin backed his quiet belief that minutes on the pitch will equate to goals on his first start since Boxing Day.

His 50th minute header cancelled out Armstrong’s opener, but the hoped for play-off take-off was grounded late on.

Sub Lewis Travis’ stoppage-time red card for a horrible lunge on Nathan Thompson proved no more than a ugly post-script on an ultimately disappointing night.

After producing their first win of 2018 at MK Dons on Saturday, the challenge for Pompey was to build on the impetus created in front of 6,257 travelling fans at Stadium MK.

They were doing so in a match Jackett believed his side to be underdogs in, against opposition many rate as the most likely outfit to be joining Wigan in the automatic promotion places come May 5.

Chaplin was rewarded for his last-ditch weekend winner with his first start since Boxing Day.

He was one of three Pompey changes as Christian Burgess returned from suspension and Jamal Lowe was reinstated with his first start in three.

Oli Hawkins and Matt Kennedy were the two men to make way, dropping to the bench.

It took less than two minutes for dangerman Bradley Dack to pick up the first yellow card for a late lunge which left Brett Pitman writhing on the turf.

Luke McGee had quite rightly picked up man-of-the-match plaudits for his showing at MK Dons.

The back-in-favour keeper was required to carry on from where he left off at the weekend after a sloppy pass from Ben Close gifted Blackburn a clear early sight of goal

Jack Payne was the beneficiary and his pass was threaded through to Dominic Samuel, but McGee’s starting point was spot on, allowing him to smother the striker’s 12-yard effort.

The demand on Dion Dononhue has been to continue his fast-improving form by adding some firepower to his game.

His effort after nine minutes showed ambition from 25 yards, but not the required power to overly exert David Raya who gathered easily enough.

It was the visitors, despite some indifferent recent form, who looked the more threatening as they settled into their stride.

They served notice of their danger after 21 minutes when Paul Downing was a whisker away from opening the scoring with his header from Charlie Mulgrew’s free-kick.

Pompey failed to heed the warning, however, and seconds later the opener duly arrived.

It was Richie Smallwood’s cross which Jackett’s men failed to deal with despite opportunities and, with the aid of a Mulgrew flick on, Armstrong was allowed to drive an assured finish past McGee.

The response saw the home side threaten significantly for the first time with Chaplin’s rapier drive blocked after Donohue’s cross, and the same fate befell Close’s 20-yard follow up.

The Fratton faithful needed someone to get them on their feet and provide at least a modicum of hope with the visitors looking increasingly comfortable.

Pitman managed to do that 13 minutes before the break as he wriggled he way past three black and red shirts and angled an assured left-footed drive at Raya, but the keeper kept it out at the second attempt.

A clearer sight of goal was to follow four minutes later for the man most fans would choose to receive Pompey’s best chances.

Pitman showed poise but his left-footed effort finished wide of the post from 12 yards in what was a decent sight of goal.

The opportunities were mounting up as the half drew to a close, with Lowe’s header across the box amounting to nowt and Evans’ deft flick held by Raya from Donohue’s cross.

Then Fratton held its breath in stoppage time as Anton Walkes took aim from 20 yards. His finish looked on its way as it left his boot, but it ended up just wide.

The fear was the spate of first-half chances which Pompey failed to take would return to haunt them.

That didn’t prove the case, though, with the majority of the 18,152 crowd on their feet five minutes after the restart.

It was Chaplin, of course, who obliged the home support by snaffling away a headed finish after Walkes lobbed Donohue’s cross goalwards.

It could, and possibly should, have got better 60 seconds later as Raya made a hash of his efforts to clear as he charged from his goal.

Pitman picked up the pieces as the Spaniard flattened team-mate Ryan Nyambe, but the striker couldn’t guide his finish into the unguarded net from the apex of the box.

With the Fratton faithful sensing the need to will their team on, the decibels were cranked up as the hosts went hunting for Rovers’ scalp.

The visitors weren’t sitting back themselves, however, with the game up for grabs as it entered its finely-poised finale.

Walkes looked to have won it with 13 minutes left, but once again his assured angled drive finished the wrong side of the post after powering forward.

Then deliveries from Mulgrew and Armstrong into the corridor of uncertainty in Pompey’s box bamboozled the home defence, but both finished off target.

The let-offs were not to continue, however, as normal time ticked down and sub Darragh Lenihan angled a ball in the box.

The trajectory of the cross went the way Pompey didn’t want it to as Clarke tried to react and the richocet dropped to Armstrong. He made no mistake.

Seven minutes of stoppage delivered a red card for Travis after an x-rated challenge on Thompson and half-hearted penalty appeals for a foul on Evans – but no leveller.

So the inconsistency continues in terms of results. This time, though, Pompey can feel fate dealt them a harsh hand.