Portsmouth 2 Wycombe 2 – Neil Allen’s match report

Brett Pitman celebrates his goal against Wycombe. Picture: Joe Pepler
Brett Pitman celebrates his goal against Wycombe. Picture: Joe Pepler
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The weather was not of biblical proportions, neither was the outcome a scene of devastation.    

Fratton Park has endured considerably worse, namely the monsoon which dismantled the Chairboys’ October 2013 visit at half-time.

Saturday was similarly rain-ravaged, admittedly on a lesser scale, yet uncomfortable viewing nonetheless, stinging the eyes and dampening the spirits.

The 2-2 conclusion was a fair one, deserved for both sides amid awkward playing conditions and a drippy referee driven to drench the occasion with pettiness.

The final whistle boos which cascaded from the Fratton Park stands to shower the pitch incumbents were directed at Craig Hicks, the Surrey match official, rather than Pompey’s failure to claim victory.

Although once again Wycombe earned little appreciation from the vast majority gathered over mannerisms which have become familiar in recent seasons. Time-honoured time-wasting at its most effective.

Granted, Gareth Ainsworth’s side didn’t park the bus. Instead, once they seized the lead, they drove it forward applying the brakes at every opportunity to slow any gathering progress to an infuriating crawl.

Combine all such variables with a below-par Pompey fielding a curiously unidentifiable Ronan Curtis and the match drowned in a deluge of mediocrity.

To cap it off, Kenny Jackett’s men have been overtaken by Peterborough following just a week at the sunshine summit of League One.

But enough of the doom and gloom. Discounting the late drama so out of place with proceedings, it represented a hard-fought point earned in testing conditions and circumstances.

The fact that the unbeaten start to the league campaign now stretches to nine, equalling Harry Redknapp’s feat in 2002-03 during one of the most memorable seasons in Pompey modern-day history, there remain reasons to be satisfied.

Joe Jacobson’s trusty left-foot from the penalty spot prevented the result becoming far more beneficial to the Blues’ promotion aspirations. Nevertheless, the honourable draw represented no failure.

As previously witnessed so early in the campaign, this Pompey team has a handy knack of wrestling away points when displays have been off-key. They’re a belligerent bunch, unquestionably.

Not that Jackett’s men didn’t warrant Saturday’s point, far from it, but their display was lacklustre in many periods, particularly during a first half in which they steadily grew, albeit finding themselves behind.

And still they remain undefeated, a whisker away from victory even, as they negotiated a 21st-minute deficit and the accompanying stalling tactics which characterises Chairboys.

Regardless of the impressive nature of their ongoing progress under Ainsworth considering the resources at their disposal, Wycombe can be a tough spectacle, particularly when defending a lead.

Ryan Allsop attracted a ticking off from the referee just 36 minutes into the match. When a dead ball was knocked in his direction for a kick, the keeper allowed it to speed past and land off the pitch in obvious time-wasting fashion.

With tumbles to the floor, writhing on the turf, dawdling over delivering free-kicks and slouching in the process of throw-in taking, inertia occupies every Wycombe action when suitable.

No wonder referee Hicks bore the brunt of the Fratton faithful’s anger throughout, particularly with his own refusal to let the game flow in favour of punishing every trifling niggle on the slippery surface.

Still, a draw it was. Unsatisfactory perhaps, yet having chased such an outcome for the majority of the match there was a time when it would have been accepted.

It was on 21 minutes when the complexion of the encounter changed, through an excellent goal from Bryn Morris.

The midfielder clipped the ball into the feet of man mountain Adebayo Akinfenwa who, with back to goal, laid it back.

Morris then took several touches, cutting across the penalty area before curling a superb right-footed finish into the far corner of the net.

Suddenly the side which last week claimed top spot at Peterborough and unchanged for duty hosting the struggling Chairboys were behind, with creativity eluding.

The leveller finally arrived on 57 minutes when Oli Hawkins pushed the ball out to Jamal Lowe in the right channel of the penalty area, who clipped a first-time cross into the six-yard box.

There was skipper Gareth Evans with a free header for his third goal of the campaign.

Seconds earlier, Jackett had been preparing to bring on Brett Pitman and Joe Mason in a double substitution, with Evans a candidate to be replaced.

Instead he had equalised – with both players then instructed by their manager to replace their bibs and return to the bench.

Pompey pushed for the winner, with Pitman and Mason eventually thrown on in the search for a second goal – and it arrived.

Lee Brown put in a cross from the left which was eventually retrieved by Nathan Thompson, who squared inside to Lowe on the right.

The winger took a touch before flighting a precise cross to the far post, when Pitman headed home from close range.

The clock showed 86 minutes and Pompey followers opened their arms in readiness to embrace a seventh win of the league campaign.

Then, on 89 minutes, Dominic Gape helped the ball into the box out of hope rather than specific purpose and, with Fred Onyedinma positioning himself to receive, Christian Burgess clumsily clattered into his back.

The forward’s fall was soft, yet the penalty decision was true, Burgess’ nudge decisive despite debatable power. Irrespective of referee Hicks’ poor display, he gave the correct call.

Up stepped Jacobson to slot high down the middle and the 2-2 scoreline was sealed, pegging back a Pompey lead which had lasted just three minutes.

Another harsh outcome for Burgess, who in the previous home match had gifted Shrewsbury a goal from their sole attempted on target.

With Jack Whatmough fit again and waiting in the wings, it remains to be seen whether further punishment awaits the Blues’ long-serving defender. 

The rain clouds followed Burgess on his path away from Fratton Park that evening after another cruel afternoon for him personally.

As for Pompey, the defeat which became a victory and ended in a point reads far more eventful than it actually was.

And that nine-match unbeaten league record encouragingly remains intact.