Portsmouth 1 QPR 1 – Neil Allen’s match report
There was a distraction staged at Fratton Park, yet a pleasurable diversion nonetheless.
While focus was fixed on inflicting another FA Cup elimination upon Championship opposition, elsewhere Luton capitalised.
The Hatters’ 1-0 victory at Southend finally removed Pompey’s stubborn residency at League One’s summit, a period spanning three months and 29 days.
On Tuesday evening, Kenny Jackett’s men have the opportunity for a swift recapture, visiting Kenilworth Road, a venue where the hosts have yet to lose in league action this term.
Still, in the meantime, QPR offered deviation, time away from the mission priority, certainly welcome relief following the last two League One outings.
A packed Fratton Park crackled to an atmosphere previously barely audible this season, Pompey fans excelling, as ever, in the role of the underdog, rallying when threatened by supposedly superior rivals.
In a match when the outcome truly didn’t matter, there were no expectations, no demands, merely respite from the growing angst developing around promotion aspirations.
And it was enjoyable.
The second half served up against Steve McClaren’s side was bold and adventurous, brimming with courage and enterprise, while demonstrating a high tempo worryingly absence in recent fixtures.
The belief was back and with it, perhaps, reigniting a little confidence among those present on the rain-hit south coast.
Jackett's team was patched up in places, with Jamal Lowe suspended, Oli Hawkins and Nathan Thompson injured, while newcomer Andy Cannon cup-tied.
Regardless, those available went toe-to-toe with the Championship visitors, often eclipsing them following the interval, with Matt Clarke and Jack Whatmough the stand-out performers from all on display.
During a game of few scoring opportunities, the onslaught of goals to accompany often frenetic action never materialised, yet that didn’t dampen the entertainment factor.
There was even the delectable scenario of a Pompey lead, daring to suggest an FA Cup upset could be accomplished in successive rounds.
Sadly that lasted just 11 minutes, Joel Lynch’s generous own goal cancelled out by Nahki Wells’ scrambled finish in what concluded in a 1-1 draw.
The Blues, though, should emerge with boundless credit in recognition of their endeavours as they delivered a perfectly-timed reminder of the joys FA Cup competition can bring – and their own strengths.
Despite the wretched Blackpool and Oxford United outcomes since the turn of the year, deservedly warranting criticism, there remains plenty to enthuse about as the promotion pursuit continues.
Of course, QPR’s visit was a sideshow located away from the main event. There are still crucial issues requiring addressing, particularly before January’s expiry.
The desired new arrivals have still to be glimpsed, much to the growing disenchantment of a Fratton faithful rightly concerned over the visible lack of squad strengthening at present.
The deadline is 11pm on Thursday, with the unplanned exits of David Wheeler and Andre Green adding to the necessity of a vast improvement on the previous January transfer window’s obvious failings.
And Luton, don’t forget about Luton. Managerless, yet currently without defeat in 16 league fixtures, of which 12 have been victories.
Now they top League One by two points, albeit having fulfilled a game more than a Blues team which suddenly find themselves shunted into second spot, challenged to chase rather than lead.
Yet Saturday’s FA Cup represented pure escapism from such concerns which threaten to ground progress in the league.
Refreshing and reinvigorating, a vibrant Fratton Park was also treated to the pre-match presence of BBC’s Football Focus and accompanying media attention, stirring memories of halcyon days.
Although the drawback of such an effective home showing is the introduction of a Loftus Road replay, expanding the fixture congestion continuing to hamper Pompey in recent months, with ongoing involvement also in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Jackett made three changes to the team which lost at Oxford in such a disappointing manner the previous weekend.
With Wheeler having departed for MK Dons via parent club QPR, Louis Dennis was handed a rare Fratton Park start, overcoming a knock to the knee which, in the build-up, had threatened to rule him out.
Dion Donohue was drafted into a midfield holding role in place of the cup-tied Cannon, who is now also injured with a quad problem, while Brett Pitman replaced the suspended Lowe.
With youngsters Dan Smith, Matt Casey and Bradley Lethbridge all cup-tied, the Academy’s Leon Maloney was named on the bench, albeit not used.
Jackett has steadfastly selected his strongest side in the FA Cup this season, refusing to rotate, irrespective of the standard of opposition. On Saturday, he had no choice, such were the reduction in options.
Following a pulsating first half short of goal-scoring opportunities but definitely not action, a different Pompey appeared after the interval.
Firstly Pitman wasted a glorious opportunity when Dennis’ delightful clip over the defence put his skipper clean through. However, Pitman lofted the chance over the bar.
Then, on 63 minutes, Toni Leistner misjudged an interception, instead nudging the ball in the direction of Lee Brown lurking on the left flank.
The full-back took a touch before driving in a left-footed cross which Lynch, stationed facing his goal, sliced in hurried attempts to clear, finding the far corner of the net.
The PA announcer mistakenly awarded the opener to Brown, who certainly enjoyed the subsequent celebrations as he continues to await his maiden Pompey goal.
Although afterwards the former QPR graduate, who made one first-team appearance before slipping into non-league, was not attempting to claim its credit.
It was an advantage, however, cancelled out by Wells on 74 minutes.
A corner from the right saw Pitman beaten in the air and the ball ricocheting off the head of Tom Naylor, forcing Craig MacGillivray into a point-blank stop.
Wells pounced, his first effort blocked by the keeper, before following up to crash the ball high into the roof of the net from three yards.
Moments later, Ronan Curtis was caught by the follow through of a crunching QPR challenge which had initially taken ball, sparking a set-to involving the majority of the players.
The Irishman, still limping from the blow to his right foot, was booked along with Brown and Lynch. Crucially, for Pompey, it now rules him out of the replay following a second yellow card in this season’s competition.
Before then, it’s back to the day job and a trip to Luton on Tuesday night along the path towards promotion.
Yet the weekend detour was unquestionably gratifying for the Blues’ second-highest crowd of the campaign.