26.12.23 Pompey MR

Bristol Rovers stunned Portsmouth with a stoppage-time winner to take all three points in a Boxing Day clash worthy of the occasion.


A sold-out crowd roared Rovers to a deserved win against a side that had not lost away from home since March, with Luke Thomas slamming a loose ball home in the dying moments of the match.


Manager Matt Taylor had spoken of doing the “basics” of football after the previous week’s loss to Blackpool and his team evidently heard him loud and clear as they hounded the Pompey players from the first whistle and showed desire and passion in attack as well as a solid defensive display.


Such a performance was required to overcome an excellent Portsmouth side and lift them to 10th place ahead of their final match of 2023.


The first half saw a Rovers side raring to go in front of their home crowd, the Memorial Stadium faithful cheered their team on from the very first whistle and the men in blue and white gave them the kind of start that they would have hoped for.


The first 10 minutes might have conned the neutral fan into questioning which side started the day at the top of the table, as Bristol kept the travelling Portsmouth within their own half and showed exquisite attacking play to give the away side plenty to think about.


Harvey Vale showed his unquestionable talent in the wing-back position as he drove down Portsmouth’s right-hand side early on, his inch-perfect ball across the area met by a stretching John Marquis, however the lack of power on the effort allowed the grateful Will Norris to claim.


This energised the Rovers side, with Grant Ward efficiently orchestrating the team’s attack from his midfield position and finding success with his distribution across the forward line.


However, Portsmouth began to find their feet in the game and managed to keep the ball with more swagger and control befitting an unbeaten away side this season.


They focused their efforts down the right-hand side, a cross being well met by top scorer Colby Bishop, although he could only direct it straight at Matthew Cox in the Rovers goalmouth. Despite this change, the Pirates were not willing to let Pompey find any sort of serious foothold in a game that they had dominated, and the chances began to fall for the home side thick and fast.


Marquis operated excellently as a target for the midfield and his layoffs allowed his teammates sights of goal, with Vale seeing an effort fly wide of the post.


Towards the end of the half, Evans and Ward had two quickfire chances blocked by some desperate Portsmouth defending before, at the other end, Cox had to react quickly to smother a ball in the 6-yard box in the face of a looming Bishop.


Rovers will have been happy with their performance going into the halftime break, but perhaps worried that their display had not resulted in any change on the scoreboard.


After half-time, Portsmouth came out with an intensity that had been absent in the opening period as they fought to find the opening goal that had recently been all too easy for them to find in the first half of games. It was Rovers who looked more on the back foot as they laboured to the halfway line repeatedly before being pegged back in their defence.


However, the first real chance of the half fell to Tristan Crama in the Pompey penalty area, when he capitalised on a hastened headed clearance with a first-time volley, the ball glancing off the far side of the crossbar. This roused the Memorial crowd and the Portsmouth defence, so often composed and calm, looked out of sorts against the energetic press of Bristol Rovers.


After Bristol broke from their own area in the 64th minute, Aaron Collins drove through the centre of the pitch before being hauled down 20-yards out from the Portsmouth goal. Ever the reliable marksman, Anthony Evans stepped up and beautifully sent the ball over the Pompey wall and underneath the crossbar, Will Norris rooted to the spot as it nestled in the top right-hand corner.


A brilliant bit of skill from a dead ball specialist and Rovers found themselves 1-0 up against the league leaders.


The aforementioned league leaders were not going to roll over, however, and they began to work their way into the Rovers half as the clock ticked towards the final 15 minutes.


The Gas were given a warning sign as substitute Paddy Lane arrived just a moment too late at the back post to meet a trickling ball that had beaten both keeper and striker. Nevertheless, just one minute later, Lane again powered his way onto a through ball down the left and sent a well-placed finish into the far corner, drawing Pompey level.


Portsmouth were looking the more likely to find the winning goal in the final minutes, a brilliant Cox save from close range commenced a hectic goalmouth scramble before Christian Saydee flashed a shot past the base of the post from the edge of the area.


It eventually seemed as though both sides would be leaving with a point apiece, yet deep into stoppage time the ever-impressive Grant Ward found himself in a bit of space on the edge of the area, and his through ball to Evans eventually found its way to an unmarked Luke Thomas on the right who kept his composure and placed his shot expertly past the flailing bodies of the defence, sending the Mem into pandemonium and handing Portsmouth just their second loss of the season.

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