Portsmouth 1 Barnsley 1: Neil Allen's verdict - No escaping ref justice as karma from Richard Hughes moment inflicts late Blues agony
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Certainly by throwing himself onto the grenade, Joe Morrell’s act of selflessness, or gamesmanship if you prefer, came so agonisingly close to being rewarded by victory over Barnsley.
Perhaps justice was deservedly done through the visitors’ 89th-minute leveller, with the agonising moment emanating from an agricultural long throw rather than precision picking open of a comfortable defence.
Not that this is the time to moralise, in football all is fair in battle, as Morrell emphatically demonstrated with his underhand intervention in the 78th minute.
With substitute Josh Martin bursting through the heart of Pompey’s rearguard, the Welsh international cynically produced a slide challenge from behind solely intended to clip the back of the opponent’s galloping legs.
As Martin tumbled, he managed to divert the ball to Devante Cole, who thudded a first-time right-footed shot from inside the box past Matt Macey.
Yet wait, referee Andy Woomer had already blown for Morrell’s obvious indiscretion, curiously refusing to allow play to continue before passing judgement.
Barnsley, trailing 1-0, had been denied an equaliser, while the Blues’ number 16 remarkably escaped any form of punishment, no stern talking to, let alone a yellow card.
As for the Fratton faithful, the chant of ‘Stand up if you love the ref’ was directed at an official who, in the first half especially, had hardly made himself popular to those same new converts.
Morrell’s ridiculous case of double good fortune dared to suggest this could indeed be Pompey's day, maybe cheats really do prosper.
After all, Cristiano Ronaldo was once red carded for a nudge of a headbutt on Hughes during a south-coast encounter, an explosive reaction to the Blues midfielder’s particular approach to man-marking from a corner.
Back to the present, Morrell returning from a one-match ban, was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the team in a desperate moment.
How Pompey laughed, how Barnsley fumed, yet karma was prepared to wait before inflicting its consequence.
With one minute remaining, substitute Barry Cotter’s long throw from Barnsley’s left was flicked on by Colby Bishop on its trajectory towards the far post.
There was Bobby Thomas to apply the decisive touch with his head and register a second goal in three matches since arriving on loan from Burnley.
Agonising for Blues followers, yet, in truth, defeat for the play-off chasing visitors would have been harsh considering their overall contribution to the game.
And also on the basis of Cole’s disallowed goal, for which Woomer surely warrants substantial criticism having instantly blown for a foul rather than taking several seconds to see if Barnsley could still benefit.
Not that the tactical challenge should define Morrell’s own display, for since his return from the World Cup he has been in outstanding form.
Having undergone a late pre-season operation and subsequently blighted by niggling injuries and distracted by the forthcoming Qatar tournament, the Welsh international has been a strong stand-out performer in recent months.
Even during Danny Cowley’s final days, it was Morrell who strode forward and was arguably the only player to emerge with any credit during that faltering end to the era.
Available following a one-match suspension, he replaced Louis Thompson in the starting XI against Barnsley, one of three changes.
Deadline day signing Di’Shon Bernard also joined him in the team, while fellow Tuesday arrival Paddy Lane was named on the bench after his arrival from Fleetwood.
Bernard, chiefly recruited as a central defender, was asked to replace the injured Zak Swanson at right-back, a role admittedly he is not too unfamiliar with.
The other alteration to the side which lost 2-1 at Peterborough was Dane Scarlett dropping to the bench to be replaced by Michael Jacobs.
No start for Reeco Hackett, however, despite an impressive cameo off the bench at London Road and subsequent deadline day interest from Lincoln.
In a tight first half, the Blues thought they had opened the scoring after 22 minutes, when Jacobs’ through ball was latched onto by Bishop, who finished emphatically.
However, it was ruled out for offside, with replays showing it was the correct call, albeit still marginal, with the Blues forced to try again.
At the other end, moments later, Matt Macey, who has enjoyed impressive start to life at Fratton Park, superbly clawed Adam Phillips’ clever lob against the bar.
The keeper again came to their rescue on 28 minutes when Cole was presented with a one-on-one during a swift Tykes counter-attack, only for Macey to block and concede a corner.
Pompey largely controlled proceedings in the second half, taking the lead and never looking like losing it – until that late, late long throw.
In the 49th minute, Marlon Pack swung in a right-footed cross from the right which was met with a volley from Bishop, who steered the ball into the far corner of the net.
It signalled his 16th goal in 33 appearances this season as the summer signing, so regularly hamstring by poor service during long periods, races towards that cherished 20-goal mark.
Encouragingly, the Blues didn’t sit on that lead, showing willingness to increase their advantage, and, had it not been for Bernard missing one glorious close-range headed chance from Jacobs’ corner, they may have achieved that.
Despite the narrow scoreline, Mousinho’s men were generally untroubled at the back, with Macey, so influential in the opening 45 minutes, barely called upon.
There was that brief threat in the 78th minute led by Martin, so expertly extinguished by Morrell in controversial circumstances, but then the danger appeared to be over.
That was until a long throw ensured it was a case of spoils shared as Barnsley left Fratton Park with a point they feared would never arrive, by fair means or foul.
Mousinho afterwards admitted the fixture felt like a defeat for his devastated players, having been so agonisingly close to registering a third victory in four fixtures since his arrival as head coach.
Yet deep, deep down, they should be heartened by the display – and acknowledge that perhaps Barnsley got their justice in the end.