Portsmouth 2 Coventry 1: Neil Allen's verdict – The impossible mission threatening to become an improbable success

In the aftershock of defeat at Charlton, Kenny Jackett scrambled around for a public proclamation to retain some semblance of hope.

Monday, 22nd April 2019, 9:05 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd April 2019, 9:50 pm

As a consequence, he declared the necessity for ‘eight or nine wins’ out of Pompey’s remaining 10 League One fixtures.

Few believed, some even doubted play-off qualification. Others called for the manager’s head.

Subsequently, a staggering run of seven league wins out of seven have lifted the Blues into third spot.

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Brett Pitman's late winner against Coventry was Pompey's 48th second-half goal of the League One campaign. Picture: Joe Pepler

Presently two points behind Barnsley with a game in hand, another three triumphs and Championship football gloriously awaits.

Jackett’s men may have been unconvincing during a pivotal Easter programme, yet the outcome has strengthened this remarkable promotion resurgence.

Just as at Burton some 72 hours earlier, the Blues were dominated in long spells by a Coventry side who will rightly feel aggrieved not have claimed at least a point.

Yet somehow this belligerent Pompey team dredged up late 2-1 victory to enhance chances of claiming that coveted second place.

Pompey won against Coventry. Picture: Joe Pepler

Those neutrals among the television audience will be questioning the validity behind such promotion credentials.

Having been offered a second chance to make a favourable first impression, Jackett’s troops would hardly have convinced the casual football fan taking in those last two displays on Sky.

However, there exists an exceptional resilience and wonderful courage among a stubborn group of players who constantly refuse to declare their innings.

At Fratton Park against Mark Robins’ men, they clawed back from a lacklustre first half which saw them trailing by Jordy Hiwula’s ninth-minute opener.

The equaliser through Tom Naylor’s header took until the 66th minute to arrive.

Then Brett Pitman lashed a sublime left-footed finish seven minutes from time to capture a dramatic three points.

Perhaps ill-deserved, yet that would be failing to give credit to a gutsy team blessed with determination, spirit, fight and a winning know-how.

There is a reason why Pompey are third in League One at present - heart.

The Blues are already one point behind the 87 tally which earned them the League Two title two seasons ago. They have three games remaining.

With Peterborough netting a last-gasp leveller against Sunderland, Jackett’s men could accept a draw at the Stadium of Light next weekend.

However, Barnsley remain in pole position and such an outcome would instead play beautifully into their hands.

On the other hand, three more victories, breaking the club record in the process, would leave Pompey untouchable.

And possessing this momentum and an admirable headstrong will to win, you wouldn’t put it past them.

For the visit of Coventry, Jackett’s squad was missing Omar Bogle, who collected knee and ankle injuries during his substitute appearance at Burton.

That earned a squad recall for James Vaughan, who had been training at parent club Wigan for the past week.

The former Everton apprentice had failed to make the Blues’ last two match-day 18s, but was back to take Bogle’s place among the substitutes.

That represented the sole change to the men on duty at the Pirelli Stadium for that 2-1 win.

Coventry included ex-Pompey pair Tom Davies and Dominic Hyam as their centre-half partnership.

Davies was part of the League Two title-winning squad, while Hyman never made an appearance during a loan spell from Reading that same 2016-17 campaign.

There was also a return for Conor Chaplin, a January £500,000 by Mark Robins following an initial loan spell.

However, he had to settle for a place on the bench as he attempts to force his way into the visitors’ 4-2-3-1 playing system.

When the match got underway, Pompey won the first corner on six minutes after Nathan Thompson’s cross from the right was blocked.

From Lee Brown’s delivery, keeper Lee Burge almost punched it into his own net, but was saved by Davies, who hooked it clear off the line.

Yet it was Coventry who broke the deadlock on nine minutes.

Bright Enobakhare was allowed to charge through the heart of the Blues’ midfield before slipping the ball inside to Hiwula, who spun and finished it with a first-time right-footed shot.

It capped a lovely move from the visitors, although Enobakhare’s run should have been checked long before the outcome.

Pompey almost fell further behind on 20 minutes through a counter-attack following a Brown corner.

The visitors hoisted the ball forward down the right and Thomas pushed it past the onrushing Craig MacGillivray to be faced with an open goal.

The attacker had to come in from wide, however, and when he finally shot, Thompson brilliantly blocked at the near post.

Evans completed the clearance, yet not before Thomas fell inside the box appealing for a penalty, although nothing was forthcoming.

Moments later, Jordan Shipley’s corner from the right was met with a near-post volley by Hiwula, yet it ballooned over.

The half-time whistle saw Coventry retaining their 1-0 lead, while some boos emanated from members of the Fratton faithful.

Jackett introduced a double substitution at the break, with Evans and Hawkins replaced by Ronan Curtis and James Vaughan.

Yet the game became a stop-start affair, affected by Coventry’s time-wasting and injury to Liam Kelly.

Then, on 66 minutes, the leveller arrived, following Brown’s right-wing corner.

Lowe’s persistence had won it, and the left-back delivered a flag kick headed home by Naylor to make it 1-1.

On 75 minutes, Chaplin and Jordan Willis were introduced off the Sky Blues’ bench for Davies And Thomas.

The hosts were looking for that winner and when Naylor slipped into Lowe, he curled a right-footed effort just past the far post.

On 80 minutes, Shipley put in a free-kick from the left, following a foul on Chaplin, but Hyam’s header was straight at MacGillivray.

The game was still anyone’s and Lowe forced a solid save out of Burge with a fierce shot down the middle.

From the resulting right-wing corner, Pompey found themselves in the lead.

Brown’s delivery drifted over his team-mates and was retrieved at the far side by Curtis, who flung in another cross.

Lee Burge punched the ball, falling invitingly to Pitman, who let fly with a left-footed shot which thundered into the back of the net to make it 2-1 on 83 minutes.

And successive win number seven keeps this dogged Pompey team on track for the Championship.