Pompey Hold On For Vital Win
Portsmouth 3 Exeter City 2
Pompey fans probably woke up this morning feeling a few years older after being put through the mill at Fratton Park yesterday as Guy Whittingham's men very nearly blew a comfortable 3-0 lead against battling Exeter.
There were two surprising pieces of team news before the game. Fans were surprised to see that the manager had the balls to drop his captain from the side as Johnny Ertl was left on the bench whilst John Marquis' loan spell was cut short and he was replaced by Ryan Bird.
There was a nice service held for the fallen before the match began, and it started at a frantic pace with Pompey creating chances down the wings. Jed Wallace in particular sent a couple of dangerous crosses from the right that deserved someone to get on the end of.
Both sides were gulity of giving the ball away whilst the home fans were getting frustrated with their team not directly crossing the ball into the box from corners, opting to play it short with the wind playing its part. Unfortunately that plan didn't really work with nothing coming of those moves which played right into the hands of Exeter's counter-attacking game.
Pompey were almost made to pay on the break soon after as Matt Grimes had plenty of time to run into space and hit the crossbar with his swerving strike from distance.
The game lulled after around half an hour or so and the atmosphere at Fratton Park fell flat for some reason. The quality of football on show was of good standard from both teams for a League Two game even if the ball was given away fairly often but it was better to see both teams try and pass the ball rather than resort to ugly hoof ball.
The crowd woke up on the stroke of half-time when Ricky Holmes attempted a cross from midway inside the Exeter half which ended up being taken by the wind and flew past Artur Krysiak into the back of the net.
Thankfully Ricky has admitted it was a total fluke rather than embarrassingly trying to claim he meant it but the goal was not too dissimilar to Asmir Begovic's goal against Southampton which is well worth a watch if you're one of the few Pompey fans not to have seen it yet.
The second half started brightly and Pompey soon had a second goal. Bird won the ball in midfield and the build up led to Yassin Moutaouakil to cross the ball for him to head in his second goal in as many games. Exeter may have reason to complain about it as it seemed like Bird had committed a blatant foul to win the ball but referee Oliver Langford had missed a fair few obvious fouls yesterday.
Pompey were relatively comfortable at the back apart from having to deal with a frantic goalmouth scramble after Trevor Carson had saved a point blank strike from Aaron Davies.
And it looked like the hosts would ease to a comfortable win when substitute Andy Barcham beat his man down the wing and provided the cross for Bird to nod in his second goal of the game.
Even when Danny Coles pulled one back for the Grecians in the 75th minute with his header that Carson failed to grab, the home fans weren't too concerned.
However, that relaxed attitude soon turned to panic when John O'Flynn poached a second goal at the far post when he was left unmarked on 84 minutes.
Exeter continued to pump long balls in the box and try and use the conditions to their advatange, whilst the returning David Connolly should have scored on the break to make the game safe.
Pompey fans couldn't believe it when the fourth official displayed an additional six minutes to be played as the visitors kept piling forward. Carson had to be at his best to save Davies' header with his outstretched arm in stoppage time and the final whistle eventually blew.
The relief around Fratton Park was palpable and a stiff drink was required after those last nerve shredding minutes. It would have been typical Pompey to let such a comfortable lead slip and had Exeter equalised it would have been remembered in the same vein as the infamous 5-5 at Oxford or the 4-4 draw with Fulham on New Year's Day of 1985.
The game obviously turned when Simon Ferry, who had been very effective playing alongside Therry Racon was withdrawn for Ertl. The whole mentality of the team seemed to change from one that was happy to press upfield, to one that was happy to sit back and let Exeter pile on the pressure.
The substitution had to be made as Ferry was tiring but why not bring on Romain Padovani instead? What does he have to do to get any game time? Had Exeter equalised Ertl would have had to emigrate to avoid to flak he would have got from some of the more "vocal" Pompey fans and perhaps the same could be said for Guy, too.
Still, Pompey were very good for 70 minutes and have earned a valuable win which, although the club are still 16th in League Two, they are now only six points off the play-offs, eight from the top of the league and have a game in hand having extended the unbeaten run to six.
This game also restored some faith in football for me on a personal note. Like many, I have found League Two to be a graft with little in the way of quality football to entertain us. It is safe to say that everyone who attended the match yesterday got their money's worth and just because of the late drama as there was some good football played by both sides yesterday.
You will expect that there will be a few more nervy moments this season as Portsmouth FC like to put us through the mire but at least it means that football is finally meaningful again after the last couple of seasons when off-field issues have taken precedence.
Pompey Player Ratings
Trevor Carson: 7 - Made a mistake for Exeter's first but pulled off a couple of great saves.
Yassin Moutaouakil: 5 - Supported the attack well but constantly gave the ball away.
Sonny Bradley: 6 - Solid return to the side.
Bondz N'Gala: 6 - Won most things until the last 15 minutes.
Joe Devera: 5 - Still unconvincing at full back.
Jed Wallace: 7 - Full of energy but faded late on.
Simon Ferry: 8 - Unsung hero, game swung in Exeter's favour when he went off.
Therry Racon: 7 - Grafted hard.
Ricky Holmes: 8 - Goal may have been a fluke but he was a constant threat.
Patrick Agyemang: 6 - Average showing.
Ryan Bird: 8 - Will have won over many of his critics.
Johnny Ertl (Ferry 72): 5 - Struggled with the pace again.
Andy Barcham (Wallace 69): 7 - Made an impact and provided the cross for the third.
David Connolly (Agyemang 76): N/A - Good to see him back but probably should have scored.
Source: Fratton Faithful
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