Rotherham 1 Pompey 0 – Neil Allen’s match report

Joe Mattock scores in injury time. Picture: Joe Pepler
Joe Mattock scores in injury time. Picture: Joe Pepler
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There was a respectful post-match pat on the shoulder delivered from player Jon Taylor, while Jonson Clarke-Harris opted for the offering of a handshake.

It seems Kenny Jackett had New York Stadium friends after all.

Pompey’s boss was an undesirable presence in the eyes of a Rotherham support still simmering over last term’s ill-fated 39-day stay.

Even a trivial 58th-minute waving of the hand to satisfy the travelling supporters’ pleas triggered an explosion of boos from the disapproving home faithful.

How they would have howled if this dastardly arch villain had marked his maiden return to the scene of the crime by masterminded the thwarting of victory.

Jackett came close, oh so agonisingly near – an outcome which would have prompted Millers followers to legitimately cite a heartless miscarriage of justice.

Inspired by the twin pillars of Christian Burgess and Matt Clarke at the heart of Pompey’s remarkable rearguard action, the hosts could find no way through.

They huffed and puffed, yet encountered a Blues brick wall still stubbornly effective from the League Two title-winning campaign.

The ever-honest Jackett labelled a one-sided second half as an ‘onslaught’, displaying a candidness usually absent in football’s traditional managerial post-match address.

Nobody in attendance could possibly disagree with such an appraisal, yet the defensive brilliance delivered by Pompey should not be overlooked while praising Rotherham’s attacking dominance.

Then, one minute into stoppage time, Joe Mattock arrived at the far post to shatter the unbearable tension.

Multiple renditions of ‘Jackett, what’s the score’ were slung in the direction of a statuesque Blues boss frozen in the technical area by icy-cold disappointment.

At the very death, for a third time in four matches, Pompey had been denied, inflicting yet another heart-wrenching defeat.

That magnificent defence warranted more – but then again so did the swarming Millers, who were relentless following the interval.

With the conventional back four restored following last weekend’s intriguing foray into wing-backs, there was more of a reliability about the Blues defensively.

Nathan Thompson’s uncanny knack of hurling himself in front of every shot was crucial upon a return to right-back, while also strangling danger man Ryan Williams.

In the other full-back berth, Sylvain Deslandes was handed a debut, with Dion Donohue moved into the central midfield slots.

It was satisfactory bow from the Wolves loanee yet, noticeably tiring, he was replaced on 66 minutes, with Donohue dropping back into left-back.

The former Chesterfield man then became a highly-effective member of Pompey’s rearguard action which scrapped to fend off incessant Rotherham attacks.

As a unit it was masterful defending, coping admirably with a procession of home corners delivered dangerously by Anthony Forde, particularly when challenged aerially.

Jackett’s reputation among the exasperated home faithful was sinking to new unexplored depths.

There was even brief late respite when, on 61 minutes, the recalled Matty Kennedy tricked his way down the left and fired a shot narrowly over the bar in a marvellous move.

In the finale, Jamal Lowe was presented with the opportunity to slip Kal Naismith in down the right, but elected to shoot wide from outside the box.

By that time, Brett Pitman had already left in the pitch in favour of substitute Oli Hawkins, a decision which incensed the skipper, prompting into what has now developed into a customary fit of pique.

On this occasion, he refused the kitman Kev McCormack’s offer of a coat and barely acknowledged Jackett’s placating hand during the charge into the dug out.

Deslandes was also withdrawn in favour of Connor Ronan in that double change – and the new arrivals stood firm with their team-mates in the unrelenting scrap for a New York Stadium point.

How Jackett’s ever-stretched squad could have done with a conventional defender, or a granite-chiselled central midfielder to strengthen Pompey’s remarkable resolve.

As it was, such options continue to elude amid the lengthening treatment room queue.

That unyielding second half contrasted alarmingly to the opening 45 minutes when Pompey shaded it as the better side.

During an intriguing first half, the contest was tight, yet the visitors offered more of an attacking threat to hearten their supporters in the pursuit of victory.

Early on, Ben Close slipped Lowe in down the right and he surged upfield into the box before seeing a right-footed shot parried by Marek Rodak.

Around the half-hour mark, the winger then clipped a cross from the right, met with a disappointedly weak header from Pitman straight at the keeper.

At the other end, David Ball’s clever spin and shot from outside the box was met with the faintest of touches from Luke McGee’s fingertips to nudge it over the bar.

It meant the match was delicately poised at 0-0 heading into the interval, yet Pompey would have been encouraged for the remainder of the game.

As it turned out, Jackett’s men spent almost the entire second half forced to defend as the Millers poured forward in growing numbers and driven by an escalating belief.

McGee produced a reaction save from Will Vaulks following a corner, and when the midfielder followed up the flying body of Thompson deflected it clear.

Yet such was the effectiveness of the defence offering a shield in front, McGee was rarely called upon to intervene.

That was until three minutes of time added on when substitute Michael Smith flighted a cross in from the right and left-back Mattock beat Lowe at the far post to head home.

Created and scored by ex-Pompey players, while the Millers’ assistant manager and former Blues boss Richie Barker wasn’t shy in celebrating the final whistle.

No such joy for Jackett up against his former club. He arrived as public enemy number one and his team departed as second best.