On Tuesday night, just three days after they were due to play against Accrington Stanley in the league, Pompey hosted Championship side, Ipswich, at Fratton Park. The fixture came about after a young Blues side managed to hold their opponents to a 2-2 draw at Portman Road – in fact, they came within two minutes of going through on that occasion – and Pompey were determined to finish the job second time round. Ipswich boss, Mick McCarthy, freely admitted that Pompey had deserved to win in the original fixture, so he came to the replay under no illusions about how tough the game was about to be.
Pompey manager, Paul Cook, made three changes to his starting eleven, opting to pick Gareth Evans, Michael Doyle, and Christian Burgess over Adam McGurk, Ben Close, and the injured Danny Hollands. Burgess himself was playing his first game after a an ankle injury which he sustained against Hartlepool at Fratton Park, while Adam Barton moved into his preferred midfield role alongside Doyle. Marc McNulty acted as the lone striker, with Gary Roberts, Gareth Evans, and Kyle Bennett working in behind him. The Ipswich side featured ex-Bournemouth striker Brett Pittman, and ex-Pompey man, Luke Varney, as well as ex-Southampton ‘keeper, Bartosz Bialkowski.
Pompey started the better, with Kyle Bennett poking a shot just wide of the far post after three minutes, having been played in down the left wing. However, a lucky escape for Pompey soon followed when Michael Doyle tried an audacious back-header to Brian Murphy, which was flicked over the ‘keeper by Pittman. The ex-Cherries striker couldn’t quite get the ball to dip enough on its path goalwards, and the ball ended up sitting on the roof of the net while Pittman and Murphy slowly untangled themselves. After half an hour, Gareth Evans did some good work to get back and win the ball before laying it off to Barton. The ex-Coventry man then chipped a delightful ball over the defence for McNulty to run onto, but the Scot fluffed his lines and fired his shot straight at Bialkowski.
However, soon afterwards the hosts finally made a breakthrough. A quick interchange of passes between Roberts and Bennett led to Roberts taking on Piotr Malarczyk in the area. Roberts was too quick for the Pole, who brought Roberts down with an outstretched foot, in full view of the referee. Roberts himself stepped up to take the penalty, powering the ball down the middle of the goal and, although Bialkowski got a strong hand on the ball, it found its way into the bottom corner to put Pompey 1-0 up. The lead was very much deserved, as for long periods of the game, it was impossible to tell which side was two divisions above the other.
Five minutes later, Pompey doubled their lead, when Bennett and Roberts exchanged passes on the right flank, allowing Gareth Evans to find some space. He quickly adjusted his feet, and put a brilliant cross towards the far post, where McNulty leaped high in the air to nod the ball home for Pompey. The Blues then negotiated the remaining minutes of the half, meaning that the half time whistle blew with the score at 2-0 in the League 2 side’s favour.
Straight after the restart, Pompey had a golden opportunity to kill the game. Roberts backheeled the ball to Evans on the right hand side, before the League 2 player of the month squared the ball to McNulty inside the area, putting the whole Ipswich defence out of the game. The Scot had time to let the ball run across his body, and pick his spot, before slotting the ball goalwards, only to be thwarted by sharp work by Bialkowski to keep his side in the game. The rebound came back to McNulty at an awkward height, but he could only fire the ball high into the Fratton End, while Bennett looked to be in a better position for a pass.
On 53 minutes, Pompey won a free kick on the left corner of the penalty area. While the Tractor Boys were trying to keep the Pompey men in check in the box, the ball was cleverly rolled back to Michael Doyle on the edge of the area, who curled his first-time shot just wide of the to corner from 25 yards. Five minutes later, Pompey looked to have another goalscoring chance, when Marc McNulty cleverly dummied Adam Barton’s pass, allowing Gary Roberts to run through on goal, but the assistant referee raised his flag for an offside, to uproar from the home fans and players alike.
However, Ipswich got themselves back into the game on the hour mark, when Ainsley Maitland-Niles worked some space for himself before firing a curling effort into the top corner of Brian Murphy’s goal from 30 yards. Although the goal was completely against the run of play, it showcased the little bit of quality that higher ranked sides have in their lockers. The goal looked to have signaled a cagey last half hour for Pompey, but seven minutes later, Malarczyk earned himself an early bath when he clipped the heels of Roberts, having already been cautioned. On 79 minutes, Roberts was withdrawn and replaced by Conor Chaplin and, soon after, Burgess was also substituted. Ben Close came on in his place, while Adam Barton moved back into the heart of defence. Ipswich piled on the pressure in the closing stages of the game, but were largely unable to muster any notable attempts on goal, allowing Pompey to hold out for a memorable win.
The win saw Pompey book a home tie against Premier League neighbours, AFC Bournemouth in the fourth round of the competition, a tie that fans and players alike will be looking forward to. It was an outstanding team performance, as every member of the Pompey team put a real shift in to get a deserved win against opposition two divisions above them. Although the performance was great all round, the standout players were Adam Webster, who looked comfortable despite the caliber of the opposing strikers, Christian Burgess, who did not look at all like somebody playing for the first time after five game out injured, Gareth Evans, who put in another tireless performance Pompey fans have become accustomed to, Gary Roberts, who looked to be one of Pompey’s main threats going forward, Kyle Bennett, who was always a danger with his direct running, and Marc McNulty, who topped off a good performance with a well-taken goal, though he could easily have scored a hat trick.
However, it is important that Pompey do not get carried away after this performance, as they have on of the most important games of the season on Saturday in the league when they face Oxford United at home. Even so, a match against Premier League opposition at Fratton Park will be a nice event to look forward to when the time comes.