Ellis Harrison gets reward for composure at Doncaster - Portsmouth's defensive resolve makes welcome return
Sports writer Will Rooney picks out the talking points from Pompey’s 2-1 victory at Doncaster.
Composed Harrison gets his reward
By his own admission, Ellis Harrison wasn’t sure whether his header was hitting the target.
As the ball looped over Donny keeper Seny Dieng almost in slow motion in stoppage-time, the 8,962 inside the Keepmoat Stadium waited with bated breath.
But Harrison’s effort found the top corner, resulting in euphoric celebrations from himself and his team-mates as Pompey delivered a smash-and-grab win.
When the striker was introduced at half-time for John Marquis, his remit was to stretch the hosts’ defence.
In the first period, Pompey had scarcely been able to trouble the Rovers rearguard and any rare attack was disjointed and ultimately broke down.
But there was an improvement when Harrison was introduced, with the Blues able to foray forward with more success.
The ex-Ipswich man had one header saved by Dieng, although the cross meant it was difficult to get real purchase on his effort.
Nevertheless, Harrison made no mistake when he was handed a second opportunity, glancing James Bolton’s delivery home.
In stoppage-time, it would have been so easy for the Welshman to snatch at his attempt in a desperate bid to score.
Instead Harrison composed himself, took his time and ensured he made solid contact on the ball – and he got his reward.
Defensive resolve returning
When Kenny Jackett surveyed his squad before the season started, he had his ideal defence earmarked.
However, injuries means the Pompey boss has been unable to roll out that back four during the formative stages of the season.
But at Doncaster, the rearguard was as close as Jackett’s got to his summer designs so far this term.
The defence of James Bolton, Christian Burgess, Sean Raggett and Lee Brown displayed the steel and resolve the Blues have lacked during their stuttering start to the season.
A potent Donny attack conjured up wave after wave of raids on the Blues’ goal in the first half – and after Gareth Evans had given Pompey the advantage.
But the visitors were on their mettle and delivered an admirable rearguard action.
Burgess was many people's man of the match – an accolade that was hard to argue with.
Considering he was behind close-season signing Paul Downing in the pecking order during the summer, the ex-Peterborough man’s impressive performance in central defence – and as a makeshift right-back – means he’s now regarded as first-choice centre-back.
Raggett’s had his critics and looked rusty during the formative stages of his Fratton Park career. That wasn’t the case at the Keepmoat, though, as he was solid throughout.
The immediate return of Brown in a left-back role added experience at the back and he also showed his willingness to get forward.
Meanwhile, Bolton is beginning to underline why he was brought to Pompey and recorded successive assists when he crossed for Ellis Harrison’s winner.
Last season, Pompey’s grit and determination in defence was the cornerstone to success.
At Doncaster, there were signs of getting back to that.
Close takes responsibility
It was very much the James Coppinger show during the opening 45 minutes at the Keepmoat Stadium.
The man who’s regarded as one of Doncaster’s greats ran amok, despite being the ripe old age of 38.
Because Coppinger dropped from the No10 role into Rovers’ midfield, it meant Pompey were overloaded in the engine room and struggled to get a foothold in the game.
But in the second half it was Ben Close who took responsibility for the Blues.
Regarded as Pompey’s best ball-playing midfielder, it was that attribute in the second period that shifted the dynamic more in the visitors’ favour.
Close's tidy and nimble passing helped Kenny Jackett’s side see more of the ball and, more importantly, keep Coppinger off it.
The Southsea ace’s intelligence yielded Pompey’s first goal when his clever dummy fooled Reece James on the counter-attack, before picking out Gareth Evans to round off the move with aplomb.
And only for a stunning save from Seny Dieng, Close was denied yet another clip to add to his already-impressive showreel.