Gillingham 0 Portsmouth 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Danny Cowley has last laugh as combustible Steve Evans' 'disrespectful' sideshow adds to late Blues joy
Gareth Evans recounts a story of how he was bombed out of Rotherham by manager Steve Evans.
It centres on when he passed the ball out of play for a Dagenham & Redbridge player to receive treatment during a November 2012 encounter.
His furious boss purportedly ranted and raved over the midfielder’s impromptu act of good sportsmanship, to the point where the ex-Pompey man snapped ‘Shut up’, followed by an expletive targeting Evans’ weight.
Gareth Evans was subsequently banished to train on his own and, seven weeks later, had his Millers contract cancelled by mutual consent.
The pitchside behaviour of Steve Evans has long been theatrical, a hammy pantomime villain sneering and hissing, primarily at match officials who stumble unwillingly into his vicinity.
At times on Saturday, observing his combustible histrionics was considerably more engrossing than the game unfolding at the Priestfield Stadium.
Likewise, the Scot’s explosive post-match comments, rattled off in machine gun fashion in the direction of Danny Cowley, make an absorbing read.
Apparently the refusal of Evans and assistant Paul Raynor to shake hands with Cowley following the final whistle was prompted by the Blues head coach’s ‘disrespectful’ goal celebrations.
Indeed, Pompey’s boss earned a booking for his reaction to Michael Jacobs’ deflected winner two minutes into time added on – labelled ‘resembling World Cup stuff’ by Evans.
In fairness, such passion can perhaps be excused considering the manner of the dramatic victory, coupled with the simmering animosity between both benches.
Certainly it can be argued a draw would have been a fair outcome bearing in mind a large number of below-par Blues performances, particularly in attacking areas and delivery of the final ball.
Not that Evans would possibly concur, claiming: ‘The one thing about the Portsmouth fans is that they are not delusional. They will know they should have lost the game’.
Perhaps it slipped his mind that on-loan Chelsea and England under-19 keeper Jamie Cumming produced several superb saves, including finger-tipping George Hirst’s sublime lob onto the crossbar.
Mahlon Romeo also missed when presented with a gaping goal, while substitute Ellis Harrison had the ball in the net only for referee Dean Whitestone to bring back play following a head injury for Max Ehmer.
In contrast, the Gills’ finest moments came from efforts bordering on the edge of the box, with Danny Lloyd the chief culprit with some wild shooting, and Gavin Bazunu rarely called upon to make a save.
There were also penalty appeals for the Pompey loanee’s challenge on John Akinde, although even Evans testified that the keeper had touched the ball initially, sufficient contact to divert it for a throw-in.
Not that the visitors warranted the win – while it is laughable to claim Gillingham should have instead earned the three points.
Spare no sympathy for Evans, who spent the course of the game angrily disputing every refereeing decision, then afterwards painted a flawed imitation of what those present actually witnessed.
Still, his hard-working players did deserve more from the match, recovering from a shaky start to really challenge a confident Pompey, particularly during the second half.
In-form pair Marcus Harness and Joe Morrell looked shadows of themselves, Reeco Hackett’s awful delivery from left wing-back was immensely frustrating, while Romeo’s display was a good few gears down from his masterful Sincil Bank showing.
As for captain-for-the-day Ronan Curtis, his application, passion and work-rate can never be questioned, yet there remain question marks over whether he is as effective on the ball when taken away from his left-wing position.
Despite such drawbacks, however, Pompey managed to dig out a win at the death for the second Saturday running, a telling statistic if ever there was one.
Ever since Ipswich set the benchmark for lowest point of Cowley’s Fratton Park reign, the response from his then under-fire players has been truly remarkable and, likewise, their rise up the table.
Gillingham represented a sixth straight win in a nine match unbeaten sequence, during which six clean sheets have been established despite injury problems piling up.
At the time of the 4-0 debacle to the Tractor Boys, Pompey had plummeted to 17th in League One. Now they are six points off top spot and two points away from the play-offs.
They had gone nine away fixtures without victory in all competitions, yet have now secured three consecutive triumphs on their travels.
To think a smattering of the Fratton faithful were calling for Cowley’s head just six weeks ago. Presumably their opinion has now been changed.
Gillingham signified a poor display in so many ways, yet this Blues side continue to demonstrate its heart, commitment and willingness to scrap to pull out results at the death. Fine characteristics rarely glimpsed this term before Ipswich.
On Saturday, Cowley was without Sean Raggett through a one-match ban, prompting him to claim he had no central defenders to choose from.
Rather harsh on Connor Ogilvie, who has played plenty of times in the position, including his youth days at Spurs, and been a pivotal figure during this admirable recent run.
Still, with Raggett absent and Paul Downing and Clark Robertson injured, Shaun Williams was pressed into duty alongside man-of-the-match Connor Ogilvie and Kieron Freeman.
The trio would defend their box superbly, controlling the awkward John Akinde and keeping the Gills at arm’s length, despite what Steve Evans may have you think.
Indeed, the Blues could have been a few goals up early on but for home keeper Cumming.
In the second minute, Bazunu’s long right-footed pass was misjudged by Rob McKenzie, whose header looped helpfully into the path of Hirst.
Brimming with confidence, the striker volleyed a lofted right-footed shot over the hosts’ goalkeeper, who somehow managed to get a hand to it and divert it onto the crossbar.
Not long after, Morrell’s ball down the left channel was collected by Hirst, who cut across the box and fired a fierce shot with was saved, with the keeper also finger-tipping away Romeo’s follow-up when presented with an open goal.
The Blue somewhat trailed off for the remainder of the half, while, after the interval, spurned too many promising positions through a sloppy final ball.
Then, two minutes into time added on, Curtis delivered a throw-in by the right-sided corner flag to substitute Michael Jacobs, who had been on the pitch for nine minutes.
From almost the byline, the winger took a touch before nudging it inside McKenzie and then prodding in a right-footed delivery which Tucker deflected into his own net.
How the 1,475 Pompey fans in attendance – and Cowley – celebrated.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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