Portsmouth second-half super show tames title rivals Sunderland
Pompey delivered a second-half super show to emerge victorious from the top-of-the-table showdown with Sunderland.
Gareth Evans, Ronan, Curtis and Ben Thompson got the goals in the 3-1 success to inflict just a second league defeat on the 10-man Black Cats.
It was a frenetic second 45 minutes of action after a hard-fought first half in front of a crowd of 19,402 - the biggest home gate in seven years.
The game spun on Glen Loovens being dismissed for a foul on Hawkins just after the restart and Evans smashing home his penalty.
Three more goals followed in the next 15 minutes as the adrenalin-fuelled action continued to unfold.
It's Pompey who emerged from a breathless afternoon with the upper hand in the title race, as they sit four points clear at the top for Christmas.
It proved a fiercely-contested first 45 minutes with neither side found wanting for commitment.
But despite the competitive nature of the game there was little in the way of clearcut chances.
Curtis burst through early on but just over-ran the ball then excellent play from Oli Hawkins freed Evans, but he couldn't get a shot off.
The best chance of the game came two minutes before the break as Nathan Thompson lost the ball to Duncan Watmore whose cross was met Lynden Gooch, but Craig MacGillivray parried impressively.
The pendulum swung in Pompey's favour three minutes after the restart.
Curtis' through ball was a perfect one for Hawkins who broke clear but was hauled down in the box by Loovens.
The defender was dismissed for the challenge before Evans lashed his spot kick into the top of the net.
Pompey doubled their advantage in the 53rd minute as Curtis drove forward and fired home at the near post.
Sunderland were back in the game four minutes later as Luke O'Nien volleyed home at the back post from Reece James' cross.
The breathless action continued as Ben Thompson put daylight between the sides again in the 63rd minute.
Hawkins' header was well saved by Jon McLaughlin but the midfielder lashed home the loose ball with the aid of a deflection from just inside the box.
MacGillivray almost gifted the ball to Gooch from Brown's backpass eight minutes later but just managed to clear before the Sunderland striker got his foot in.
Hawkins was inches away from heading a fourth in the 71st minute from Curtis' cross.
Then Close had a goal disallowed for offside six minutes from time as he fired home but Pitman appeared to get a deflected touch from an offside position.
But that mattered little as Fratton Park reverberated to '˜top of the league with Kenny and Joe' as Pompey took the initiative in the title race.