Swindon 3 Portsmouth 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Classy Brett Pitman conducts finishing masterclass as toothless ex-team-mates fail again
Brett Pitman was exiled, banished and barred from last season’s promotion and play-off charge.
Yet tonight the ex-Pompey man ruthlessly demonstrated finishing class which defies time.
Without a goal in seven matches and challenged to delay potential relegation to League Two, the Swindon veteran rose to the occasion majestically.
His first of a match-winning double saw him flash a stunning shot into the top corner following Charlie Daniels’ error.
The second arrived from the penalty spot after the hapless Daniels had needlessly brought down Tyler Smith.
Smith himself added a third deep into time added-on to seal a 3-1 triumph which keeps alive Swindon’s slender hopes of remaining in League One, having started the day at the table’s foot.
Oh so sweet for the 33-year-old Pitman, who was skippering the managerless Robins against the club he netted 42 times in 99 appearances before his ignominious exit.
How the Blues could do with somebody blessed with his striking prowess as they endure a run of two goals in four matches.
Ronan Curtis grabbed a late consolation from John Marquis’ pass to provide hopes of a comeback, yet Pitman’s contribution could not be overhauled.
It may not be the Pitman of old who rattled in 25 goals during his maiden Fratton Park season, yet he remains a finisher whose talents far exceed anyone in Pompey’s set-up.
Danny Cowley painfully lacks a player of such talent in front of goal as this injury-hit side threaten to fade from play-off contention.
And with one point from the last four matches, the excellent early work upon his appointment is unravelling swiftly.
Ben Close had made a shock Pompey return, little more than 24 hours after Danny Cowley voiced his fear the midfielder could be out for up to four weeks.
The Blues had been awaiting the results of a scan on his injured groin, which potentially could have been a grade one tear.
However, he was available to start against the Robins, coming into midfield to replace Harvey White.
Elsewhere, the Blues failed in their bid to overturn Jack Whatmough’s red card against MK Dons.
As a consequence, he must now sit out four matches, including the Swindon fixture.
He was replaced by Rasmus Nicolaisen, for his first start under Danny Cowley, partnering Sean Raggett in the centre of defence.
The omitted White dropped to the bench following his outing against MK Dons, while Andy Cannon was among the substitutes, despite being troubled by a back problem.
When the match kicked off, Brett Pitman, serving as Swindon skipper, provided the game’s first attempt on goal.
He swivelled inside the box and fired a left-footed shot, which crashed harmlessly against the roof of the Town End.
The hosts won the first corner of the match on seven minutes through sloppy Pompey play at the back.
It was delivered from the right by Matty Palmer, with Raggett and Charlie Daniels conceding another corner between them.
From that flag kick, Anthony Grant bundled the ball the wrong side of the post from close range, representing a close call for the Blues.
On 13 minutes, Callum Johnson’s cross from the right was met by a Marcus Harness header, which was pushed over the bar by Lee Camp.
At the other end, Tom Naylor brought down Palmer and Scott Twine’s resulting free-kick was pushed away to his right by Craig MacGillivray.
The deadlock was broken on 17 minutes through a superb finish from Pitman.
Naylor headed a Swindon cross back to Daniels, only for the left-back to miscontrol and allow Jack Payne to steal the ball.
He then pulled it back to Pitman, who took his time before unleashing a ferocious right-footed shot into the top corner of the net.
Pompey immediately responded through Ronan Curtis, whose right-footed shot deflected away, agonisingly out of reach of the lurking Marquis.
Wonderful work down the left from Curtis saw him pull the ball back to Close, who squared a pass to Naylor.
The skipper lined up a shot from outside the box, yet it was always going wide, and smashed Twine in the face, leaving the midfielder requiring treatment.
Marquis was presented a glorious opportunity on 41 minutes when Johnson put a ball over the top.
The Pompey striker reached it before Camp and, while he took a good first touch on his chest, the second was clumsy and ran out for a goal kick.
Then Williams popped up on the left to feed Curtis and his shot took a deflection behind for a corner.
Marquis then dragged a right-footed snapshot wide of the far post as the Blues finished the first half strongly.
Minutes into the second half, Curtis produced a clever spin after receiving Daniels’ pass and curled a right-footed shot wide of the far post.
On 55 minutes, a superb Naylor ball through the middle released Marquis, yet his shot was blocked by the Swindon defence.
It fell kindly for Harness to produce a follow-up, but once again it was blocked.
The Robins should have doubled their lead moments later when Tyler Smith squared the ball to Pitman, but the pass was a little overhit and MacGillivray was able to race off his line to close down the striker.
Pitman did make it 2-0 on 61 minutes, however.
The veteran striker began the move with a wonderful piece of control before finding Smith, who was needlessly bundled over by Daniels as the striker attempted to get past MacGillivray.
After Daniels had been booked for his part in proceedings, Pitman stepped up to send MacGillivray the wrong way from the spot.
Pompey made their first substitution on 70 minutes, with Daniels replaced by George Byers.
That was followed four minutes later by James Bolton on for Raggett, as the Blues switched to a back three.
Then, on 81 minutes, Close made way for Cannon as Cowley tried desperately to eke out a breakthrough.
That arrived moments later when Marquis threaded a pass through to Curtis, who took a touch before finishing left-footed past Camp.
It was 2-1 - and the keeper then did superbly to tip Byers’ effort around the post.
Then Cannon drove a left-footed shot just past the far post as the match headed into five minutes of time added on.
However, Smith would have the final say, surging down the right before driving the ball past MacGillivray into the far corner of the net.
It sealed a 3-1 success for the relegation-threatened Robins – and again showed the Blues’ inadequacies, irrespective of the man in charge.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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