Portsmouth 2-1 AFC Wimbledon: Neil Allen's match report

Pompey could never have anticipated being forced to grind out a home victory over a club languishing second from bottom.

Wednesday, 2nd January 2019, 2:08 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 11:30 am
Ronan Curtis scored Pompey's match-winner in the 80th minute

Yet that is precisely what unfolded on New Year's Day as the Blues made hard work of seeing off AFC Wimbledon.

Wally Downes' League One strugglers had netted six times away from home this season and were dominated in the opening 45 minutes at Fratton Park.

Trailing to Jamal Lowe's eighth-minute opener, it was proving a comfortable outcome for Kenny Jackett's men, despite largely lacking their usual spark.

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Come the final whistle, defender Christian Burgess had been thrown on to shore up matters as the hosts clung on to a 2-1 triumph and ease the growing nerves.

The second half saw a rejuvenated Dons peg back Pompey, even levelling on 75 minutes through Kwesi Appiah's stunning long-range strike.

Considering their positivity and dominance on the ball, it was a deserved equaliser for Downes' spirited troops.

Yet it was Ronan Curtis to the rescue 10 minutes from time, heading home Ben Thompson's right-wing cross.

A ninth of the campaign for the Irishman, who was booked for his celebration, such was the relief at regaining the lead.

Results elsewhere ensure the Blues have started 2019 with a five-point lead at the top of League One.

Yet they were made to sweat all the way against a Dons side now propping up the table following their Fratton Park loss.

Jackett once again demonstrated the ruthless nature of his team selection by dropping Brett Pitman, despite him scoring on his return at Fleetwood.

An ankle injury to Oli Hawkins had opened the door for the captain to start at Highbury Stadium, a fixture which resulted in a 5-2 Blues win.

However, with Hawkins now fit, he was handed an instant recall, nudging Pitman back onto the bench.

That was one of three changes, albeit Brandon Haunstrup's first league start at left-back since the final match of last season was dictated by Lee Brown's hamstring injury.

The other alteration was Gareth Evans in for Ben Close, with Pompey restoring their familiar 4-2-3-1 system following a tactical change at Fleetwood.

Elsewhere, Dion Donohue came in for Joe Mason on a bench which also contained Close and Pitman.

Before kick-off, a minute's applause was held in memory of Mike Barnard, the local lad who represented the Blues and later won the cricket county championship title with Hampshire.

Barnard passed away before Christmas aged 85 and sons Rob and John were the club's guests at the fixture with AFC Wimbledon.

Once the match got underway, it took Jackett's men just eight minutes to break the deadlock.

Ronan Curtis embarked on a run, cutting in from the left and firing a shot which Tom King was unable to hold.

There was the lurking Lowe to pounce, calmly clipping the ball past the keeper to hand the hosts the lead.

On 20 minutes, Anton Walkes drove a pass inside to Evans, the ball then finding Ben Thompson inside the box, only for the midfielder to completely msis his kick when well placed.

Moments later, a Pompey corner from the right caused problems for the Dons, with Tom Naylor's head drawing King into a good save.

Once again Lowe was present to pick up the pieces but, on this occasion, was flagged off-side before he had the opportunity to capitalise.

Curtis then collected a knock following a nasty collision with an advertising hoarding in front of the North stand, with help from right-back Tennai Watson's nudge. Yet the Irishman was able to continue.

On the half-hour mark there was a wonderful piece of magic from Lowe on the edge of the area, controlling the ball on his chest before wriggling inside and spinning to fire a shot straight at the keeper.

Lowe was running the show and when he clipped a ball destined for a Thompson free header on goal, Terell Thomas rose high to nod it clear with the slightest of touches.

Wimbledon had a rare break on 40 minutes following a Blues corner, but a wonderful tackle from Jack Whatmough dispossessed Andy Barcham as he burst into the box.

The hosts retained their one-goal advantage going in at the interval and, when they returned, there were no substitutions.

Yet Wimbledon began to enjoy their best spell of the match so far, with Jackett's men unable to retain possession.

Pompey, though, should have extended their lead on 54 minutes, when Lowe surged down the middle and slid through a wonderful pass to Curtis.

With just the keeper to beat, through, the Irishman lashed his shot wide when he should have done far better.

Then Curtis managed to keep the ball in play on the byline and pull a pass back to Evans, whose low first-time right-footed shot was straight at King.

On 62 minutes, Anthony Hartigan fired in a fierce shot from outside the box which Craig MacGillivray parried skywards before calmly taking the catch.

Jackett made a double substitution on 69 minutes, with Hawkins and Evans replaced by Close and Pitman.

Despite their introduction, however, Wimbledon were continuing to dictate the second half, albeit without sufficiently testing MacGillivray.

Pompey required another goal to seal victory and should have got it on 75 minutes, only for Lowe to send a header from Curtis' left-wing cross wide.

Within seconds and the scoreline was 1-1, following a stunning strike from Appiah.

The striker crashed a blistering shot from 30-yards which gave MacGillivray no chance and the visitors had their leveller.

Yet, within 10 minutes, Pompey regained the advantage.

Thompson dug out a cross from the byline down the right and there was Curtis with a far-post header to spark wild celebrations which also saw the Irishman carded.

The Dons continued to threaten, prompting Jackett to throw on Burgess in stoppage time to ensure the result could be safely seen out.

He replaced Thompson, given a rapturous reception on his way off the pitch for what could well be his final Fratton Park appearance of the campaign.

Still, victory was Pompey's - and they continue to dominate the top of League One.