Bristol Rovers 3 Portsmouth 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Pitiful Blues suffer Memorial Stadium embarrassment in absence of Kenny Jackett

An unsettling 36 hours transferred itself to the pitch as defensively woeful Pompey slumped to an embarrassing defeat.

By Neil Allen
Tuesday, 16th February 2021, 9:06 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th February 2021, 9:06 pm
John Marquis celebrates giving Pompey the lead in the first half against Bristol Rovers in tonight's Memorial Stadium encounter. Picture: Graham Hunt/ProSportsImages
John Marquis celebrates giving Pompey the lead in the first half against Bristol Rovers in tonight's Memorial Stadium encounter. Picture: Graham Hunt/ProSportsImages

Bristol Rovers are without a manager, had gone 10 matches without victory, and Jonah Ayunga had never scored a League One goal.

Tonight’s Memorial Stadium outcome was utterly predictable.

It began on Monday afternoon when the Blues released a statement addressing the ongoing health of Kenny Jackett.

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Requiring an operation to remove a mole from his forearm, the seriousness of the situation has now seen him step away for managerial duties for at least two weeks.

With Jackett watching from home on iFollow, Joe Gallen oversaw matters – yet was ultimately undone by abject defending.

Sean Raggett was most culpable, certainly contributing to at least two of Rovers’ goals in their 3-1 triumph.

As it was, while trailing 2-1 at the break, Gallen elected to bring off Charlie Daniels and James Bolton in attempts to strengthen a creaky back line.

Raggett remained – then conceded a 69th-minute penalty after caught in possession.

Matters had looked so much brighter when John Marquis slotted home Ryan Williams’ right-wing cross after 26 minutes.

Former Hawks striker Ayunga had failed to net in his opening 13 league games for Rovers, while was publicly questioned by former manager Paul Tisdale before his departure.

Then he netted twice in 10 first-half minutes to turn the game on its head – and Pompey barely appeared capable of finding a way back.

Gallen introduced three substitutes at the break, while all five had been utilised by the 80th minute.

However, they failed to galvanize a team which produced an appalling performance in the absence of their manager.

Essentially they were undone by abysmal defending, yet few on display deserve any credit, even the attacking players.

Goalscorer Marquis even had a stoppage-time penalty saved, yet that would have been harsh on Rovers, whose dominance was comfortably reflected by the scoreline.

It was as bad as the Blues have been this season, an outcome particularly embarrassing considering the precarious league position of their opponents.

Suddenly the play-offs are nearer – and automatic promotion has edged a little further.

George Byers was handed his full Pompey debut, representing the only change to the side which defeated Swindon 2-0 in their last outing.

The Swansea loanee replaced Marcus Harness, who dropped to the bench, while James Bolton continued in the centre of defence.

It was just reward for the 26-year-old, who has been in fine form since returning to the starting XI three games previously.

With Rasmus Nicolaisen available again following the birth of his daughter, he came onto the bench.

However, there was no place for Jack Whatmough in the match-day 18 following his return from a three-match suspension.

It took just six minutes before the first booking of the game, with Luke McCormick the recipient.

The Rovers man clattered Callum Johnson five yards outside the penalty area, earning the visitors a free-kick.

It was delivered by Ronan Curtis into the path of the onrushing Sean Raggett, yet a home defender did enough to put the Pompey man off as he headed wide.

The match, however, had begun in low-key fashion, although encouragingly the Blues were drawing a string of fouls down the right flank, suggesting they were causing problems.

The game’s first meaningful attempt on goal arrived on 15 minutes through Rovers’ McCormick.

The midfielder’s powerful right-footed attempt was saved well low down by Craig MacGillivray, who gathered the ball at the second attempt.

A mistake from Charlie Daniels when trying to defend his penalty area then allowed Rovers to attack, with Brandon Hanlan meeting a cross from the left with a flying header.

Fortunately it was straight at MacGillivray, who gathered with ease.

A decisive Pmpey counter attack on 23 minutes almost broke the deadlock after Curtis whipped in an excellent cross from the right.

It picked out John Marquis at the far post, yet despite his header not being a great one, it looked to be entering the net, only for it to be hooked off the line.

There were appeals for the ball having already crossed, but referee Chris Sarginson instead pointed for a corner.

It was 1-0 to Pompey on 26 minutes, however, with Marquis the scorer.

Williams did superbly down the right and the Blues’ leading scorer ran in to slot a first-time right-footed shot past the keeper.

Rovers were level on 34 minutes through a blistering finish from Ayunga.

The striker was pursued by Raggett as he broke across the penalty area to retrieve a pass, then somehow managed to find enough room to get off an angled shot.

It whistled into the far corner when perhaps the Blues defender should have done better in obstructing the attempt.

At the other end, on 39 minutes, Byers weaved through a lovely pass to put Marquis clean through, yet his touch was heavy.

That allowed keeper Joe Day to race off his line and slide in with a block to deny the striker as he bore down on goal.

With half-time approaching, Ayunga grabbed his second of the match to give the hosts a 2-1 lead.

Luke Leahy’s cross from the left on 44 minutes found its way to Ayunga all alone and unmarked at the far post.

Taking a touch, he then unleashed a ferocious shot into the net which gave the exposed MacGillivray no chance.

Gallen made three substitutions at the break, with Bolton, Daniels and Curtis all taken off.

They were replaced by Nicolaisen, Lee Brown and Harness as the caretaker boss attempted to shake up their performance.

Brown’s impact was almost immediate, getting around the back of the Rovers defence and producing a wonderful low cross from the left.

Sadly, Marquis couldn’t reach it in time, yet held his hand up in appreciation to the left-back for his excellent work.

Then, on 60 minutes, Harness tried his luck from 25-yards with a right-footed shot which flashed just wide of the post.

At the other end, Cian Harries sent a towering header wide after meeting McCormick’s left-wing corner.

On 65 minutes, Gallen made his fourth substitution, with Cannon replaced by Ellis Harrison in an attacking move.

However, more suicidal defending gifted the Gas another goal on 69 minutes.

With Pompey playing the ball around the back, Raggett was caught in possession by Leahy, who was then brought down by the defender.

Raggett earned a booking and Rovers’ captain finished left footed from the spot, sending MacGillivray the wrong way.

Pompey barely looked capable of getting back into the match, although Harness’ shot was pushed against the post.

Then Marquis won a penalty - and his right-footed spot kick was saved low down by Day to compound a miserable evening for the Blues.