Accrington 2 Portsmouth 2: Neil Allen's verdict - Grim omens and portents of doom, yet impressive Blues prove this is no end of days
Ominously, packs of birds began to gather in increasingly congested skies above the Crown Ground.
It offered a striking sight half-an-hour before kick off at Accrington, reminiscent of harbingers of doom assembling ahead of an end of days scenario.
Upon closer inspection, these were no circling vultures attracted by the stench of decay, rather flocks of gulls emanating from the nearby Whinney Hill tip keen to oversee proceedings.
Nonetheless, Pompey are undoubtedly a distressed soul at present, uncomfortably easy prey in the current climate.
Certainly the omens were not encouraging in the build up to an encounter many of the Fratton faithful were anticipating a bloodbath.
The timing of such a trip to the Lancashire club positioned seven places above was approached by many with grave trepidation. Understandably so.
Following successive beatings inflicted by Rotherham and Ipswich, Danny Cowley’s men couldn’t have been handed a more fearsome opponent than Accrington at League One level.
A powerful, physical outfit whose players tower over opposition in unfeasible numbers, this represented no match for a team somewhat alarmingly lacking heart and fight in recent footballing confrontations.
Quite how the fixture managed to attract an away following of 892 is testimony to the unwavering commitment of Blues followers, surely retaining sagging optimism rather than genuine belief.
Irrespective of the gloomy portents, however, what unfolded was a compelling statement from Cowley and his under-fire troops.
Granted, there was no second victory in 13 matches for this floundering Pompey team which has appeared progressively fragile and incapable of staging a top-10 finish let alone a realistic play-off challenge.
Still, there was plenty to be heartened by following a gutsy performance which, by rights, should have produced a rare Blues win – and Accrington’s second home defeat of the campaign.
The Blues had been challenged to react positively following the latest debacle in the form of Ipswich. How they needed to demonstrate they retained a pulse on the battlefield.
Cowley subsequently ditched his wing-back system, reverted to a back four, and dropped Ryan Tunnicliffe for the first time in his fledgling Blues career, along with Kieron Freeman.
The outcome at the Crown Ground was impressive. Admittedly not triumphant, yet the draw which unfolded offered encouragement and a slither of hope that perhaps, just perhaps, the club’s direction can be reversed.
The record books will depict a match in with Marcus Harness’ 86th-minute goal earned Pompey a 2-2 scoreline, inevitably sparking a sweeping generalisation that the visitors were fortunate to claim such a result.
However, those who witnessed the fixture, either in person or remotely, will testify that Cowley’s men were by the far better side on the day, deserving plenty more than a point.
Post-match, skipper Lee Brown gauged the Blues had created enough goal-scoring opportunities to win ‘two or three matches’, while Cowley estimated the figure at five.
Statistically, there were 19 shots from the visitors, of which nine were on target and two found the net, representative of their positive approach despite this dismal run at present.
Pompey even took the lead through Ronan Curtis’ third of the season, the Irishman collecting Brown’s pass from the left and taking several touches before placing a right-footed shot into the far bottom corner.
The clock showed 18 minutes, signifying a morale-boosting start and timely first blood to a team which struggles to rediscover composure once receiving any set-back.
Before Harness’ game-saving intervention four minutes from time, there should have been several more goals for the travelling support to savour, such was the calibre of performance which warrants immense credit.
Curtis saw another cleared off the line and deflecting off the post by Matt Butcher, while Harness had a goal-bound strike brilliantly blocked by gallant defending from Ross Sykes.
There was also a one-on-one in each half, the first of which reflecting John Marquis’ confidence at present.
On the stroke of half-time, Curtis picked him out down the right, providing a clear run at goal, yet the striker elected not to shoot, preferring to instead attempt to beat a defender who had by now blocked his path.
Once that was achieved, he opted to square a pass to his left inside the box – straight to an Accrington body.
Marquis, with 10 goals in his last 46 appearances, continues to struggle with such strong scoring opportunities, yet still turned in an admirable performance, with his strong running and commitment, often preventing the hosts having time on the ball.
He wasn’t alone with such wastefulness, of course, with Harness presented with a glorious chance in the second period after put through on Toby Savin.
On this occasion, a shot was fired, with the exposed keeper producing a fine stop, before the winger curling the rebound right-footed just wide.
Even form players, with four goals in their last six outings, can miss chances. Yet Harness’ time was still to come – as was Marquis’, who assisted it.
Recognising it was time to ditch the back three, Cowley switched the system, employing a 4-2-3-1, with Connor Ogilvie paired with Sean Raggett in the centre of defence, and Reeco Hackett recalled and asked to line up on the right flank.
Indeed, it was the 23-year-old’s finest display in a Blues shirt, while the ever-impressive Joe Morrell also forged an eye-catching double act with Shaun Williams in the centre of midfield, particularly in the first half.
So it was frustrating to see Accrington level on 50 minutes when Sean McConville’s corner from the right was headed back by Sykes and the towering Harry Pell steered home a header from inside the six-yard box to make it 1-1.
Then, on 77 minutes, McConville slipped a pass inside down the left to Butcher, who calmly clipped a shot over the advancing Gavin Bazunu and into the net.
A Pompey fan, former Cowplain School pupil and hailing from Denmead, it was a bittersweet moment for the midfielder, who had friends in the Pompey away end.
The Blues unfortunately found themselves 2-1 down, yet managed to finally raise themselves off the canvas.
On 86 minutes, substitute Michael Jacobs surged towards the box and, when it appeared he had been impeded, Marquis collected the loose ball and hammered it across for Harness to finish at the far post.
A fully deserved point for the Blues, who suggested maybe it’s not yet the time to write them off, irrespective of tell-tale signs.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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