Accrington 1 Pompey 3: Neil Allen's match report
Gary Roberts proclaimed it as Pompey's biggest game of the season '“ and they won.
This was no misleading scoreline, no flattering outcome in the battle between fourth and fifth place.
Paul Cook’s side were simply magnificent on a night they had to reap a positive outcome.
Defeat at Accrington Stanley would have been indigestible, the dying throes of their automatic promotion aspirations.
Not that the 584 travelling supporters need have been concerned, the Blues responded to the immense pressure in stunning fashion with a 3-1 success.
At Barnet two weeks before Cook’s men were booed off and abused by some, at Exeter seven days ago they succumbed to an agonising last-gasp leveller.
Last night they put themselves within six points of an automatic promotion spot having conjured up one of their finest displays of the campaign.
Suddenly 10 points from a possible 12, with three of those results on their travels, and Pompey are firmly back in the promotion hunt, particularly with Plymouth Argyle still to visit Fratton Park.
A magnificent first-half display paved the way for last night’s victory to leave the home side and their supporters shocked.
Kyle Bennett fired home his fourth goal of the season on 22 minutes after Gareth Evans’ left-wing cross had not been sufficiently cleared.
Then Matty Pearson diverted Ben Davies’ right-wing cross past his own keeper to double the advantage.
Yet the goal of the match was delivered by Michael Doyle, who struck a sweet left-foot volley from some 25 yards for his first Pompey goal.
Cook’s men continued to dominate after the break, although Shay McCartan did pull a goal back seven minutes before full-time.
On this occasion, however, there was to be no late leveller and Pompey lifted themselves into fourth spot – and back in the promotion hunt.
Cook made the one change to the side which defeated Stevenage at the weekend.
Top-scorer Marc McNulty, who also netted in that Lamex Stadium victory, was dropped to the bench to accommodate Michael Smith. Smith had impressed Pompey’s boss with his 19 minutes off the bench in that 2-0 win, his first outing since recovering from a calf problem.
As a result, he was named in the starting line-up at the Crown Ground, operating as the lone striker.
McNulty replaced the loanee from Swindon on the bench, the only alteration to the substitutes with the Blues naming the same match-day squad.
That meant once again no place in the 18 for Adam McGurk and Ben Tollitt, despite being fit, while Brian Murphy (calf) was still absent.
There was tension before kick-off when Cook discovered Rommy Boco had been named on the Accrington bench.
In January the Blues agreed to cancel the remaining six months of the versatile player’s contract to allow him to move to the Crown Ground.
In the process, Cook claimed he reached a gentleman’s agreement with John Coleman that Boco would not feature when the sides next met.
It was a stipulation also introduced when Nigel Atangana (Leyton Orient) and James Dunne (Cambridge United) exited Fratton Park – both of their clubs subsequently sticking by it.
As it was, Boco was named among Stanley’s seven-man bench, having also been an unused substitute in the weekend goalless draw at AFC Wimbledon.
When the match kicked off, in the opening seconds Gary Roberts combined with Evans and the latter delivered a dangerous looping cross from the right.
Bennett, however, didn’t have the height to challenge and keeper Jason Mooney, in for the suspended Ross Etheridge, managed to mop up without too much trouble.
On four minutes, Roberts delivered a shot from just inside the Accrington half hoping to catch the keeper off-guard, yet he easily gathered.
That was followed by Bennett getting underneath a right-foot shot and firing it well over the top from 30-yards out.
It was far better from the Blues in their next attack, however, with Davies delivering from the right and Roberts connecting with a near-post header which landed in Mooney’s arms. At the other end, Stanley won the first corner of the match on 12 minutes, with Sean McConville’s delivery headed over by Tom Davies.
The deadlock was broken on 22 minutes through a thumping finish from Bennett.
Roberts fed Evans down the left inside the full-back and when the winger’s cross was half-cleared it fell to Bennett, whose first-time right-foot shot rattled against the inside of the post before entering the net.
The move was an excellent one from the visitors, who had just shaded the opening exchanges.
Billy Kee responded with a shot from outside the box which ran through for Ryan Fulton to deal with comfortably.
On 33 minutes, Adam Webster brought the ball out of his half and embarked on a surge upfield before firing a low right-foot shot wide of the far post.
Moments later, slick play from the Blues resulted in Doyle somehow staying on his feet following a Matt Crooks challenge.
From just outside the box, the skipper then crashed a shot which rattled the crossbar and bounced to safety.
However, the lead was extended on 36 minutes through fortuitous circumstances.
Danny Hollands struck a magnificent crossfield pass to Davies on the right, who in turn drove a delivery into the penalty area where it was touched home by Pearson past his own keeper.
There was stunned silence from both sets of supporters as they attempted to comprehend the situation but Pompey had scored another.
It was 3-0 on 43 minutes with a contender for goal of the season from Doyle.
Roberts won a free-kick down the left and when Davies’ delivery was headed out there was the skipper to deliver a stunning left-foot volley from outside the box for his first-ever Blues goal.
Losing 3-0 at half-time, Coleman brought off his captain Seamus Conneely for midfielder Scott Brown in a bid to find some way back.
On 52 minutes, Bennett gallopped down the left and drove in a cross which Tom Davies did superbly to hack out for a corner under great pressure from Smith.
Then Webster found Davies with a crossfield pass and the full-back’s cross deflected off the unfortunate Pearson, with Mooney clawing it over the bar.
Accrington had a rare foray forwards when a long ball into the area fell between Fulton and the defence, with Kee pouncing to steer a header wide.
On 60 minutes, Bennett slipped the ball through to the overlapping Enda Stevens, who pulled the it back for Smith to fire the ball wide when well-placed.
The hosts made a double substitution on 67 minutes with Piero Mingoia and McConville replaced by Brayden Shaw and Boco.
Kal Naismith was came on for Pompey and straight away fired in left-foot shot at the keeper, followed moments later by a delicate right-foot chip over.
Yet, in a rare attack, McCartan pulled one back on 83 minutes, hooking the ball home after Davies had initially skied his clearance.
It was nothing more than a consolation as Pompey made giant strides towards achieving their promotion aspirations.