Portsmouth 2 Peterborough 2: Neil Allen's verdict - Dan Butler revels in homecoming as charitable Blues surrender victory

Chatter in the build-up largely focused on a full-back’s Fratton Park reunion.

Sunday, 8th December 2019, 9:00 am

Except it wasn’t Nathan Thompson who inflicted a painful reminder of his talents, rather a defender shown the Pompey door four-and-a-half years ago.

Dan Butler preceded Enda Stevens as the Blues’ left-back – a whole-hearted, spirited performer hailing from the Isle of Wight and graduating through the Academy.

Yet, as a 20-year-old, he was among the clearing of the decks initiated ahead of Paul Cook’s impending arrival in the summer of 2015, rendered a free agent after 54 outings.

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Upon Saturday’s maiden south-coast return, he was the best player on the pitch.

Butler reconstructed his career in non-league confines with Torquay, before retracing his steps to re-enter the Football League through Newport County.

The last occasion he featured at Fratton Park at League One level was April 2013, upon the visit of Sheffield United for the final home match of a relegation campaign under Michael Appleton and Guy Whittingham.

Upon his comeback, he was unrecognisable, not merely in terms of prodigious facial hair but also an admirable evolution of footballing gifts.

Former Pompey youngster Dan Butler set up both Peterborough goals on his return to Fratton Park Picture: Joe Pepler

How Butler has blossomed and, with two assists on Saturday, played a crucial part in depriving his former club of victory over the third-placed Posh.

Thompson, a somewhat pantomime villain roundly booed for periods of the match, inevitably picked up a booking, while bought a few cheap free-kicks following customary tumbles.

Indeed, only referee Charles Breakspear’s unfathomable leniency towards the 29-year-old prevented the caution earlier, until finally issued mid-way through the second half.

Meanwhile, there were even several renditions of ‘Championship, you’re having a laugh’ in reference to the right-back’s motivation for turning down a new Pompey deal in preference for chancing his arm in the division above.

Ellis Harrison's goal suggested it may have been a match winner - until more generous Pompey defending. Picture: Joe Pepler

Clearly confused, elements of the 531 Peterborough faithful reacted with ‘Premier League, you’re having a laugh’.

Still, it was Thompson at his most effective, while the mask forming his on-pitch persona was briefly removed when touching providing a consoling pat to former team-mate Brandon Haunstrup as Pompey’s man was helped off the pitch late on with a twisted knee.

Certainly he can be satisfied with his own performance, silencing Ronan Curtis, the Irishman himself known to irritate many an opponent in the heat of battle.

Yet this was Butler’s stage. There had been no fanfare to herald his return, Thompson supplied the distraction, albeit unwittingly.

Nonetheless, the 25-year-old who emerged from the fluent Blues Academy production line alongside Jed Wallace, Ryan Williams, Ashley Harris and Sam Magri provided an impressive contribution.

In fairness, two wretched moments of Blues defending aided their own downfall, yet the excellence of Butler’s delivery from the left created such scenarios.

The encounter finished 2-2, on the face of it a credible point for Kenny Jackett’s men considering the League One placing of Peterborough and the necessity to fight back from the blow of conceding after 10 minutes.

However, Pompey’s boss afterwards reflected on two points dropped, an evaluation many would support, with the hosts in control in the second half and seemingly destined for a seventh-straight triumph.

Then another Butler cross, more lax defending and former target Mo Eisa levelled with 18 minutes remaining to ensure the share of the spoils.

Certainly a Posh side missing six first-team choices, among them the talismanic Marcus Maddison, laid low by illness, would have been more satisfied with a point.

The match was tough on the eye at times, referee Breakspear largely dictating that through a pernickety performance, refusing to let the occasion flow and blowing for the mildest of contacts.

Regardless, Pompey established themselves as the better side after the break, largely unruffled at the back and suggesting the capability to add to their slender lead.

They were instead left to reflect on a spurned opportunity to climb within one point of the top three, possessing a game in hand.

Heading into the fixture, Jackett restored Tom Naylor to midfield following four matches sidelined by a hamstring injury, replacing Anton Walkes.

Elsewhere, Brandon Haunstrup was preferred at right-back to the fit-again Ross McCrorie, while Williams earned the nod ahead of Marcus Harness, whose brilliance lit up Tuesday evening’s Leasing.com Trophy win over Northampton.

Having already beaten a top-six team in Rotherham in the previous Fratton Park league game, there remained optimism Peterborough could suffer a similar fate.

However, the Blues began sluggishly, culminating in gifting the opener to Ivan Toney on 10 minutes.

Butler managed to create enough space up against Haunstrup to whip in a cross from the left, which Oli Hawkins horrendously miscued.

His attempted right-footed clearance sliced to the far post, where the unmarked Toney slid home from four yards.

The Blues levelled on 26 minutes after Williams was fouled by Louis Reed on the edge of the area during an aerial challenge.

Brown drove a low left-footed free-kick through the wall and into the net for his maiden goal in 68 Pompey appearances, throwing in a forward roll during a quirky celebration.

The hosts then took the lead on 52 minutes after John Marquis clipped the ball down the right-hand channel of the penalty area to Ellis Harrison.

He took several touches before producing an angled right-footed shot across Christy Pym, the keeper partially stopping the ball, yet it still managed to creep in at the far post ahead of the lurking Curtis.

In a match of few opportunities, Harrison’s eighth of the season hinted it could well be sufficient to secure the three points for Pompey.

Then, on 72 minutes, Butler produced another dangerous delivery from the left, picking out Eisa for a free header from six yards out to make it 2-2.

In the former Bristol City man and Toney, Peterborough boast a potent attacking force totalling 29 goals between them by early December.

Yet charitable defending had allowed them to extend their outstanding scoring records at Fratton Park during the sharing of a point.

Pompey can be heartened by this run of 10 matches undefeated in all competitions and one loss in 15, during the ascension from 19th to 10th.

Today they should be sitting one point behind the play-offs – only for defensive blunders and Butler to cruelly intervene.