Bristol Rovers 2 Portsmouth 2: Neil Allen's verdict - Improbable comeback so harsh on distraught Blues

There were some inhabitants of The Poplar Insulation Stand who could stomach no more.

Saturday, 26th October 2019, 11:26 pm
Updated Sunday, 27th October 2019, 5:11 pm
Ronan Curtis celebrates with Tom Naylor and Ryan Williams after netting Pompey's second in Saturday's 2-2 draw at Bristol Rovers. Picture: Graham Hunt/ProSportsImages

After all, the rain had ceased – and so had belief in a positive Bristol Rovers outcome.

The clock depicted 70 minutes, the scoreboard illustrated 2-0 damage. Prolonging the agony was not palatable on a sodden Memorial Stadium afternoon.

Certainly even the most wildly optimistic among the Gas’ silenced support would not have anticipated scrambling a point from such a wretched scenario.

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There were no tell-tale signs of late Pompey capitulation, only those armed with smug hindsight could possibly have foreseen the demolition ball swinging their way.

The final 12 minutes were breathlessly improbable, ridiculously disproportionate to the previous 78 minutes delivered by a Rovers side whose initial thrust was seizing up.

Suddenly Craig MacGillivray, whose sole assignment had been to pluck airborne deliveries in the swirling wind and driving rain, was tasked with retrieving the ball twice from the Blues’ net.

How the gloating home faithful rediscovered their voice to remind the 1,404 visitors what had occurred to their 2-0 lead, an advantage many believed impregnable.

This is Pompey, however, a side constructed to charge towards automatic promotion, but refuses to budge from the comfy sofa of mid-table median.

Kenny Jackett’s men should have secured a convincing victory, rattling up the heartening haul to 13 points from a possible 18 in recent weeks.

Such is the fine line at present, they instead departed Rovers nursing a point, bruised confidence and more calls for the manager to be replaced with immediacy.

Some not present may denounce the under-fire boss further as a consequence. The truth is, it was a much-improved Blues display and unquestionably harsh not to earn three points fully warranted.

However, such is Jackett’s precarious standing among many of the Fratton faithful, room for manoeuvre is shrinking by each wasted opportunity to ascend League One.

Pompey’s boss requires victories to convince – yet has now dropped three points in the last two away matches, courtesy of stoppage-time goals.

At AFC Wimbledon, the decisive moment was delivered from a free-kick. On Saturday, it arrived via a corner, albeit with firstly Ross McCrorie and then MacGillivray getting unfortunate, yet conclusive, touches.

With the fixture entering the third of four minutes added on, substitute Liam Sercombe’s corner was flighted from the left – it never touched a Rovers team-mate before entering the net.

Crashing off the knee of McCrorie, it struck the bar and touched the head of MacGillivray before finding a way through, rendering the equaliser an own goal.

More agony for the Blues, who now head into November positioned 16th and eight points off Coventry, the team presently occupying the final play-off spot.

There remain, of course, two games in hand on Mark Robins’ side, providing excellent opportunity to claw back daylight.

The glaring issue, however, is Pompey's inability to string those wins together, with only four from 13 league matches so far this term.

It should have been triumph number five at the Memorial Stadium. It wasn’t.

Inevitability, comparisons will be thrown up with the August debacle against Coventry, when Jackett’s men surrendered a two-goal lead with 15 minutes left.

On the occasion of Saturday, though, the Blues were not sucked into defending deep, they weren’t clinging onto a slender advantage, fear was never inhibiting their play.

Against the Sky Blues, the equaliser was fated, the trial run of a conceded goal already previously glimpsed before ruled out. Desperation engulfed a team possessing a two-player numerical advantage.

Against Rovers, Jackett even substituted John Marquis for Ellis Harrison in a like-for-like replacement in positional terms during stoppage time. No defender from the bench was tasked with anchoring the lead.

The Memorial Stadium was a contrast. Such was the unlikelihood, no member of the home support could have predicted the theatrical conclusion.

It was Alex Rodman who provided the lifeline, pouncing after a free-kick from the left caused problems, arriving at the far post to squeeze home a first-time left-footed shot into the bottom corner.

That was 78 minutes, merely a consolation, a pesky irritant spoiling another clean sheet. Still, a win’s a win – and how Jackett needs those at present.

The Blues even created other opportunities to restore their two-goal advantage, they remained comfortable, counter-attacking with a menace demonstrated throughout the fixture.

There was no rush of self-preservation overwhelming their mindset, the widest players, Ronan Curtis and Ryan Williams maintaining forward momentum down the flanks.

When four minutes were indicated by the fourth official, it represented faint hope in the glazing eyes of Rovers followers, a few more minutes to eke out something, anything.

Then, substitute and former League Two title-winner Kyle Bennett, was blocked by Tom Naylor some 22 yards from goal as he attempted to wriggle past.

The resulting free-kick was pumped into the box, headed behind by Christian Burgess to provide a corner – and yield one final opportunity.

The now-noisy Rovers support rose to their feet, screaming, urging, demanding. Seconds later it was 2-2.

Brutal on the Blues, who had led the match from nine minutes, an advantage which never truthfully looked like being withdrawn as the game marched on.

That early breakthrough arrived after Marquis received a nudge in the back from Luke Leahy as he attempted to connect with a Gareth Evans cross, a delivery which had flicked off the head of Curtis and then Sean Raggett’s shoulder to fall invitingly.

Evans did the rest from the penalty spot, with an emphatic right-footed finish.

It took until the 70th minute to double that advantage, Tony Craig’s attempted clearance ricocheting off Marquis to Evans, who swiftly returned the ball to the striker.

From the right wing, Marquis delivered an exquisite cross headed home by Curtis at the far post.

A moment for the Irishman to savour having been recalled to Jackett’s starting XI for the first time since the end of September, capping a man-of-the-match display in the process.

Pompey were leading 2-0, the rain had stopped and some disconsolate Rovers fans began to leave. After all, there was no chance of a comeback. Was there.