Pompey 1 Exeter 0

Jed Wallace scored the winner against Exeter. Picture: Joe Pepler
Jed Wallace scored the winner against Exeter. Picture: Joe Pepler

Jed Wallace goals have been a reliable Pompey presence since his first-team emergence.

Yet on Saturday another remarkable quality was glimpsed in the make-up of the boy who has long been a man.

Strength of character is a trait even the most talented of international footballers can lack.

Wallace, though, possesses it in abundance.

Fratton Park could not have witnessed too many worse penalties than the 20-year-old’s ballooned effort high into the Fratton end.

Arriving in the 73rd minute with the fixture against Exeter deadlocked, it represented a high-pressure moment.

Despite having netted successfully three times from the spot this season, Wallace failed on this occasion.

The midfielder’s response, however, not only yielded a Blues win, but also emphasised why he will be departing League Two swifter than his club at this rate.

The Fratton faithful may well recall Prince Boateng crumbling at Wembley once Petr Cech saved his 2010 FA Cup final penalty with his legs.

Just 19 minutes later, the distraught and tearful figure had to be hauled off by Avram Grant, his mind having folded.

A clumsy comparison to life in League Two perhaps, yet rather than lick his wounds, Wallace used his own spot-kick indiscretion to inspire the Blues to victory as they maintained their fine form.

This was not a figure desperate for the welcoming shadows. Instead the humiliated youngster set about hogging the limelight.

Wallace screamed for the ball, he drove into space, he buzzed around the box, he hassled and harried. A man determined to make amends.

On 79 minutes he popped up on the left and drove in an angled shot, which Christy Pym saved low down. A decent response.

Lesser individuals, particularly of similar age, would have shirked such bravery on the ball in the circumstances.

Then in the 90th minute he drove forward from outside the box and, despite being smothered by two nearby defenders, managed to stroke home a classy right-foot finish.

From villain to hero is the oft-worn phrase, yet it is an unfair stigma on a player who has been such a massively positive influence on Pompey’s campaign.

Curiously there remain doubters among the Fratton faithful – some taking to social media while Wallace’s penalty was still soaring.

Yet of the Blues 37 goals in all competitions this season, the former Lewes midfielder has recorded a touch more than a third of them.

With 10 coming in the league, the club’s position otherwise would truly be alarming.

Unquestionably there are aspects of his game which remain raw, in particular tunnel vision when running with the ball at pace.

Often Wallace fails to see the obvious pass when concentrating elsewhere, while frequently his enthusiasm prompts hurtling up blind alleys rather than screeching to a halt earlier.

Perhaps it’s the culmination of a reliance on not only his scoring, but creative energy, in a team which continues to lack goals.

Regardless, there was no hiding from a 20-year-old clearly conscious his penalty miss would result in a post-match hounding from many Blues followers.

And for that gutsy attitude Wallace deserves praise – and certainly a nod of respect in his direction.

Of course, there were others who also stood out in the Grecians’ visit, namely Paul Robinson and Jack Whatmough as part of the miserly back three.

A fourth clean sheet in a row ensures it is now 380 minutes since Pompey last conceded, stretching back to the end of their fixture against Southend.

During that time, those selected have defended admirably, rarely looking troubled such has been their effectiveness.

Along with the ever-dependable Joe Devera, the system in operation since Wycombe has provided the backbone to a run of eight points from 12 matches.

Considering Awford narrowly kept his job last month, the response from all has been both consistent and impressive during this run of four unbeaten matches.

Yet, as so many times this season, it was Wallace who was the difference to turn what appeared to be a third goalless draw in four matches into a victory.

There were other moments from Awford’s men which could have yielded the points far earlier, namely two attempts which struck the crossbar.

In the 23rd minute, Dan Butler pulled the ball back from the left behind everyone gathered inside the Exeter penalty area.

Josh Passley galloped across and struck a first-time left-foot effort which smacked against the crossbar and bounced clear.

Then on 67 minutes, James Dunne strode forward with the ball from deep and thundered a 30-yard drive against the bar with Pym beaten completely.

How the Fratton end gasped at the exocet which landed right in front, as once more the breakthrough was elusive.

Still, another opportunity arrived in the 73rd minute when Wallace slipped Matt Tubbs into the left-hand side of the penalty area.

The striker attempted to skip round Christian Ribeiro only to be felled in the process and Patrick Miller awarded the penalty.

The debate was whether the foul was initiated outside the box, while there were deliberations whether Ribeiro should receive a red card having denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

Yet a penalty it was, a booking for the culprit, while the complaining Danny Butterfield also earned a yellow card.

It was a delay which Awford believed was crucial, Wallace finally allowed to commence his run-up, then skying the ball over the bar.

If that wasn’t frustrating enough for the Fratton faithful, at the other end Arron Davies rattled the Blues bar with a right-foot shot in the 85th minute.

Wallace was intent on making amends, however, driving his team on through his usual boundless energy and absence of fear.

Fratton Park exploded once he was successful, the relief on the youngster’s face obvious and he leapt high and punched the air.

Suddenly it seems a corner has been turned with Awford settling on an effective system and consistent starting line-up.

And for Wallace, more evidence of the big heart and bravery of a key Blues player who continues to impress.