Pompey 2 Doncaster 2 – Neil Allen’s match report

Brett Pitman scores Pompey's equaliser in the 81st minute after his introduction as a 59th-minute substitute against Doncaster Rovers Picture: Joe Pepler
Brett Pitman scores Pompey's equaliser in the 81st minute after his introduction as a 59th-minute substitute against Doncaster Rovers Picture: Joe Pepler
Matt Clarke. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pitman: Pompey team-mate destined for Championship

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Kal Naismith’s versatility has ensured Pompey managers have often fumbled around for the correct hole to insert a round peg.

On Saturday, the adaptable Scot demonstrated his ability to mould himself into another position, albeit considerably more unfamiliar.

The role of goalkeeper came calling following Stephen Henderson’s unfortunate injury – and, with some inevitability, Naismith strode forward.

As ever with a player capable of match-winning displays, it was a cameo for the nine-men Blues which snatched the headlines against Doncaster courtesy of one particular save.

Certainly the attacking midfielder does not lack self-belief, a steadfast trait which has stood him in good stead during sometimes demoralising times at Fratton Park.

The breakdown of a mooted deal to Wigan on deadline day would have floored lesser characters. Kenny Jackett, though, had been adamant Naismith’s mindset wouldn’t be impeded. He was correct.

And on 85 minutes during Doncaster’s visit, the substitute volunteered to feature in goal for the first time in his life – whether on the training pitch or in a match situation.

Kyle Bennett was the usual training ground stand-in, playfully challenging all-comers to find a way past once main sessions had been completed.

Yet his deadline-day departure decreed that eyes had to scan elsewhere for a willing recruit to be pressed into unfamiliar action.

The solution was Naismith, the substitute whose introduction 13 minutes earlier had already reaped the corner following which the Blues had levelled.

Debutant Henderson thrashed the floor in agony having collected an injury during the process of taking a goal kick from the Milton end.

Jackett had already performed his three permitted substitutions, effectively reducing the Blues to 10 men and raising the necessity of an outfield player to deputise.

The last time such an SOS was issued by Pompey occurred in February 1999, when Swindon’s Iffy Onuora’s challenge on Aaron Flahavan saw the keeper taken to hospital.

Defender Russell Perrett climbed off the bench and performed admirably in a final scoreline of 3-3 at the County Ground.

Almost 19 years later and Naismith was following suit as his contribution earned the Blues a point in dramatic circumstances.

Jackett’s men had already twice fought back from falling behind against Rovers, with the scoreline locked 2-2 at the time of Henderson’s departure.

Then, at the beginning of seven minutes of stoppage time, Christian Burgess was dismissed following a second yellow card to further reduce numbers to nine.

Yet a magnificent rearguard action, roared on by a vibrant Fratton faithful eager to carry their team home, secured the point.

It is often said the Blues’ support is at its most vocal when faced with adversity. Few clubs scrap with more heart when challenged to defy the odds.

The final 15 minutes of Saturday, including stoppage time, was Pompey fans at their finest, with spine-tingling renditions raising the roof.

As for Naismith, his was the toughest challenge of all amid the ear-splitting battle.

The Scot demonstrated an eagerness to leave his area to clear and, at one stage, was tasked to deal with Nathan Thompson’s backpass while under pressure, performing it nervelessly.

It was his unorthodox save from Ben Whiteman, however, which had the home support cheering and team-mates delivering hearty slaps on the back.

When a ball from the left was pulled back to the Rovers midfielder on 95 minutes, he drove in a shot from just inside the area which had the Blues’ fill-in keeper saving with his left leg.

Naismith was upright as he did so, representative of any non-goalkeeper not blesse with a natural instinct to dive. Nonetheless, the goal-bound attempt had been prevented from entering the net.

Whiteman briefly stood with his head in hands as a midfielder wearing the number 13 goalkeeping jersey thwarted the visitors’ best chance following Henderson’s departure.

Curiously, Rovers rarely tested Naismith aerially, albeit his excellent back four largely ensured every ball would not reach him.

Quite an introduction to Fratton Park for Anton Walkes on a debut which would also yield a goal.

The Spurs loan arrival was among four changes to the side which lost to Shrewsbury – and asked to serve at right-back, with Nathan Thompson released into midfield.

Elsewhere, Luke McGee was dropped in favour of deadline-day recruit Henderson, with Matty Kennedy and Connor Ronan handed recalls.

Naismith and Jamal Lowe moved to the bench, while Adam May served a one-match ban following last week’s sending off.

However, revamped Pompey fell behind after just four minutes.

Walkes had blocked Alfie Beestin’s surge into the box and when the ball sprang to James Coppinger, he took one touch before squeezing an angled left-foot finish into the net.

The shot managed to find a way under the desperate challenges of Thompson and Burgess, as well as Henderson at his near post, stunning Fratton Park.

It represented a wretched opening period for Jackett’s men as the visitors swamped them, with Coppinger pulling the strings as Henderson was called into action and John Marquis had a header ruled out for offside.

The leveller arrived on 18 minutes from Gareth Evans’ left-wing corner. Walkes won the header and, when the ball ricocheted back off a Doncaster body, he swivelled to steer home a left-footed finish.

The familiar goal-scoring figure of Marquis restored the visitors’ advantage when he was granted a free header from Coppinger’s right-wing corner.

Pompey, though, were not done, despite that moment arriving against the run of play.

On 81 minutes, the impressive Dion Donohue’s delivery from the left was poked home by substitute Brett Pitman at the far post.

Moments later, Henderson exited and the team reshuffle was initiated. Soon after, the Blues were reduced to nine men when Burgess received a second yellow after punching the ball.

Doncaster sensed the opportunity to snatch the lead for a third and final time, but the hosts scrapped for their lives to keep them at bay.

And the one time they did get through, Naismith produced the save.