Portsmouth 3 MK Dons 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Fratton Park continues to be backbone of promotion push
Back to winning ways for Pompey, familiar service resumes at Fratton Park, ever the backbone of promotion ambition.
Following the disappointment of Fleetwood, it was back to the south coast and a ninth-straight win in all competitions at the Blues’ home.
Unbeatable at Fratton, unconvincing on their travels, still last night was the desired response from Kenny Jackett’s men, even if it was inevitable.
Pompey’s boss opted to refresh his team, making five changes to those on duty at Highbury Stadium, the outcome was victory, hard-earned but a victory all the same.
Struggling MK Dons represent expected fodder for anyone with top-six aspirations, yet the 3-1 scoreline was not as straightforward as it gives the impression.
Pompey were far from at their best, yet always a threat in a match in which both defences left themselves open.
Thankfully the Blues tightened themselves up in the second half and subsequently claimed the success which lifts them into fifth spot.
The was 1-1 at the interval, Andy Cannon finally opening his goal account on four minutes, only to see Alex Gilbey level on the stroke of half-time.
Then, four minutes into the second period, John Marquis’ 14 goal of the season - and ninth in 2020 - restored their lead.
Jackett’s troops then had to wait until stoppage-time for substitute Marcus Harness to make it 3-1 and add a more comfortable complexion.
It leaves the Blues five points off leaders Rotherham with a game in hand - and Rochdale visiting Fortress Fratton on Friday.
Jackett freshened up his side following the lacklustre 1-0 defeat at Fleetwood at the weekend which saw the Blues slip out of the play-off positions.
Ross McCrorie, Lee Brown, Ben Close, Ryan Williams and fit-again Cannon were all recalled to the starting XI in a major change of personnel.
Out went Harness, James Bolton, Steve Seddon, Cameron McGeehan and Oli Hawkins.
In addition, Brett Pitman was a surprise presence on the bench, back following his exile with Bournemouth under-21s.
Having been omitted from the previous 12 squads, it represented a change of heart from Jackett, although largely enforced through Ellis Harrison’s injury.
Harrison was again missing with his dead leg, with Friday evening’s visit of Rochdale the next fixture to aim for.
Meanwhile, Gareth Evans again missed out on the match-day 18, along with Brandon Haunstrup, Reeco Hackett-Fairchild and Paul Downing.
It took just four minutes for the Blues to grab the game’s first goal after Jordan Houghton misjudged a pass inside the penalty area.
Williams read the situation brilliantly to intercept with quick feet and, with the keeper approaching and out of the equation, he squared to Cannon.
The midfielder had the simplest of chances to finish right-footed from six yards out high into the net for his maiden Blues goal.
At the other end, Alex Gilbey found himself clear in a central position with just Alex Bass to beat, yet drove his shot straight against the keeper’s legs.
The keeper should take credit for closing down the angle, nonetheless Gilbey was visibly disappointed with himself at failing to take that opportunity.
Then Christian Burgess gave away a free-kick 20-yards out, with Rhys Healey driving the deadball through the wall and straight at Bass.
On 13 minutes, Brown delivered a dangerous cross from the left which Williams was agonisingly unable to reach from the six-yard box.
Marquis had a great opportunity to double the Blues’ lead on 22 minutes when Cannon put him through, but he shot against the approaching keeper.
Cannon had to receive treatment moments later after going into a 50-50 challenge, left writhing on the floor with problems to his right leg.
Brown was having plenty of joy overlapping down the left and he attempted an angled shot which the keeper parried at his near post to give Pompey a corner.
Louis Thompson, brother for ex-Pompey player Nathan, had to receive treatment on a head cut but was able to continue.
On 37 minutes, Marquis slid a pass to his right for Close to unleash a right-footed shot tipped over the bar by the keeper.
During first-half stoppage-time, McCrorie gifted the visitors a penalty when he bizarrely pushed Healey over as he attempted to combat the attacker.
Fratton Park was stunned over what they had just witnessed, with Gilbey stepping up to take the spot kick.
Bass drew cheers when he saved low down, but Gilbey followed up to net him into the roof the net before the keeper could intervene again.
Then, during four minutes of time added on, Curtis flung in an excellent cross from the left which looked destined for Marquis at the far post, only to be impeded by George Williams.
Neither player reached the ball, with Pompey’s striker and many supporters demanding a penalty, yet the referee was not listening, becoming ever more unpopular.
With no substitutions at the break, it took a tremendous tackle from Burgess to dispossess Gilbey as he burst through the middle and thought about shooting.
However, on 49 minutes, Pompey’s lead was restored through Marquis.
McCrorie provided the impetus, feeding Marquis from the right, whose shot struck a defender and ricocheted against the inside of the far post before finding the net.
It represented his 14th of the season, although certainly the striker has netted far more convincing goals.
Burgess became the first player to receive a yellow card when he cynically took out Gilbey on 50 minutes to deservedly find himself in the referee’s notebook.
MK Dons almost struck back instantly, a free-kick from the right met with a glanced Jordan Moore-Taylor header which flashed past the far post.
The visitors made their first substitution on 62 minutes, with Conor McGrandles replaced by Ben Gladwin.
The Blues were then indebted to Bass, who brilliantly beat out Healey’s far-post volley from Gladwin’s right-wing delivery.
Carlton Morris received his marching orders in the 86th minutes after hauling Marquis has he raced onto Curtis’ pass to hone in on goal.
In stoppage-time, Raggett’s header forward was collected by Harness, who wriggled past the attentions of a defender and goalkeeper before squeezing the ball into an empty net and making it 3-1.
Another Pompey home win – and we’ve seen plenty of those during this intriguing promotion campaign.