Accrington 3 Portsmouth 3: Neil Allen's verdict - Night of high drama and ridiculous theatre, yet erratic Blues firmly in play-off hunt

At half-time it appeared Pompey play-off aspirations had ended – how wrong we were.

By Neil Allen
Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 9:14 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 11:01 pm
Pompey substitute Ryan Williams celebrates levelling at 2-2 during an eventful match at the Crown Ground. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/
Pompey substitute Ryan Williams celebrates levelling at 2-2 during an eventful match at the Crown Ground. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/

Certainly few could have anticipated what would unfold during the second half at the Crown Ground, not even the more optimistic among those of Blues persuasion.

Trailing 2-0 at the break, a scoreline which, in truth, could have been even more emphatic for Accrington, there seemed no way back for the disappointing Blues.

Game over, play-off challenge over, season over, many Pompey careers over. Time for a clear out.

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Then something remarkable happened.

Firstly, the Blues hauled themselves level within eight minutes of the restart, through John Marquis and substitute Ryan Williams.

The Blues had pulled off their Great Escape within one match, although still had to rely on the woodwork and Craig MacGillivray to retain their involvement.

Even Paul Downing was called from the bench to help keep Accrington at bay as the visitors clung onto their point.

Then, during four minutes of time added, a spectacular bicycle kick from Marquis looked to have sealed victory, albeit completely against the run of play.

The striker who had failed to convert from two yards in front of an open net had struck twice – Pompey were leading 3-2.

Yet Marquis would still have another say in the outcome, which on this occasion was final.

Still in time added on, MacGillivray pushed away an Accrington header, yet the ball clattered against the shins of Marquis and into his own net.

Spoils shared, undoubtedly a result the Blues would have taken at half-time, nonetheless, it was tough to stomach.

Regardless, the point was enough to lift Dannny Cowley’s men into sixth spot with two matches remaining.

The head coach had predicted six points were required to clinch a play-off position. Now one of those have been struck off.

Effectively, Pompey require victories against AFC Wimbledon and Accrington. The drama doesn’t end at the Crown Ground.

Cowley made one change to the side which won 1-0 against Bristol Rovers on Saturday.

Ryan Williams was dropped to the bench, with James Bolton replacing him for his first start since the Cowleys’ opening match in charge against Ipswich.

That meant Marcus Harness moving to left wing-back, with Callum Johnson switched to the right.

That left Bolton partnering Sean Raggett and Rasmus Nicolaisen in a back three, largely retaining the system which worked against Bristol Rovers.

There was a slight tactical change, though, with Ronan Curtis pushed up alongside John Marquis, with George Byers behind, in a 3-4-1-2.

However, there was no place for Lee Brown, despite Danny Cowley having revealed he was available again following a hamstring injury.

Williams took his place on the bench in an 18-man squad unchanged from their weekend win which lifted them into seventh spot.

Meanwhile, Accrington were without Pompey fan Matt Butcher, who was sidelined from an injury collected at the weekend.

The 23-year-old from Denmead has enjoyed an impressive maiden campaign at the Crown Ground, emerging as a player of the season contender.

It took Pompey just 24 seconds to get off their first attempt on goal, following Harness’ surge down the left.

His cross found its way to Ben Close on the edge of the area, why let fly with a dipping shot which bounced off the roof of the stand behind the goal and into the car park behind.

Moments later, Harvey Rodgers’ cross from the right was pushed out by Craig MacGillivray, yet bounced towards the gaping net.

It was left to Bolton to thrash the ball clear and prevent the ball entering the Blues’ net.

On 10 minutes, Harness’ trickery down the left paid off once again, leaving his man floored before drilling in a low cross.

Johnson threw himself at it from a far-post position, yet narrowly failed to apply the touch which would have broken the deadline.

However, it was Accrington who broke the deadlock on 16 minutes after Harness’ loose clearance had been intercepted.

Sean McConville then crossed from the right and it was met with a powerful header on the run by Bishop to make it 1-0.

Marquis had a great chance to level on 24 minutes when Johnson pushed the ball across goal into his path.

Tussling with Ben Barclay, the striker slid a shot against the post from two yards out when faced with an open goal, with keeper Toby Savin then diving on the loose ball.

It was so close to the Blues’ leveller - yet their leading scorer simply should have netted.

Accrington could have then extended their lead when a cross came in from the right and John Russell’s tame first-time shot ended up being a backpass rather than stinging the fingertips of MacGillivray.

At the other end, a ball was knocked down the right, which Marquis gallopped onto, but his right-footed shot from the angle was well wide of the far post and closer to the corner flag.

It was proving a lively game and, on 41 minutes, McConville cut his way down the right, nutmegging Close on his way into the box, and drove a fierce right-footed effort against the bar.

It was 2-0 a minute later, however, when the ball was hooked back across goal by Bishop and Burgess slid in with Raggett to nudge it over the line.

Pompey made two substitutions at the break with Williams and Andy Cannon replacing Bolton and Close.

Marquis pulled one back on 48 minutes to provide hope of a comeback.

Curtis intercepted a pass and played through the striker, whose first shot was saved by Savin, yet followed it up to dink it over the stranded keeper.

Accrington hit straight back with Seamus Conneely’s fierce drive pushed against the bar by MacGillivray and then the follow-up going wide.

Yet on 53 minutes it was all square as the visitors counter-attacked in devastating fashion.

Curtis’ ball from the left was miscontrolled by Marquis and it shot ahead, but Williams was alive to the situation.

The Australian touched it with his right foot to go around the keeper and then finished from the angle with his left into an empty net.

The Blues had plundered two goals in the opening eight minutes of the half and suddenly it was 2-2.

Johnson was replaced by Paul Downing, who slotted into the back three, for Pompey’s third substitution of the match.

On 62 minutes, Bishop had the opportunity to race through on Pompey’s goal, but he was held up and his eventual pass was blocked by Downing.

Williams thought he should have had a penalty on 71 minutes after bursting into the box, but referee Bobby Madley wasn’t interested.

Accrington were searching for the winner and struck the bar for a third time, on this occasion through Burgess.

Then late drama struck - during four minutes of time added on.

A free-kick into Accrington’s box was met with an home head, sending the ball back across goal, and there was Marquis to perform a stunning bicycle kick.

It appeared the game was settled, yet there was still time for another goal, unfortunately for the Blues.

An Accrington free-kick into the box was eventually palmed out by MacGillivray, crashing against the shins of Marquis and into his own net to make it 3-3.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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