A stoppage-time winner for Jed Wallace gave Portsmouth the only goal of the game as Exeter City fell to a 1-0 defeat at Fratton Park.
Midfielder Wallace had had a chance to score earlier in the game from the penalty spot, only to sky his effort well over the bar.
Crossbars had been rattled at either end, with James Dunne and Arron Davies
coming close to getting on the scoresheet.
Instead a lively game that looked to be ending goalless was settled in the final minute of the game.
Following a midweek draw with Cambridge United, Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale made a single change to the starting XI. Christian Ribeiro
was the man to come into the team, while Jamie McAllister took a seat amongst the subs.
Former Grecians Paul Jones, Ryan Taylor and James Dunne all started for the hosts as Andy Awford named an unchanged team for a third straight game.
On a rain-soaked pitch on the south coast, there was little in the way of clear chances in the opening exchanges. Some considered passing from the hosts needed important touches from Ribeiro and Jordan Moore-Taylor
, and at the other end a deep cross from Arron Davies
was met with a looping header by Tom Nichols
, but saved comfortably by Jones.
Portsmouth began to see more of the ball in midfield and Matt Tubbs, who scored against Exeter as an AFC Wimbledon player in December, had his first effort from 30 yards which Christy Pym
Jed Wallace was the next Pompey man to pose a threat to the Exeter goal, shooting on the turn, but pulling his effort wide of Pym’s post.
The visitors began to see more of the ball in the centre of the park and some neat, patient build-up between Ryan Harley
, Liam Sercombe
and Craig Woodman
saw the ball worked to the right. A deep cross from Davies was taken off the head of Alex Nicholls
by Joe Devera.
Then a quick break through the middle by Nicholls saw a neat solo run before laying a ball into the path of Tom Nichols
– his strike was kept out by Jones, and when Sercombe picked up the rebound, his left-footed effort was held well by the stopper.
City were beginning to look the likelier and Matt Oakley
– who had switched position to play at the top of a diamond – drew a foul in a dangerous position. Harley’s first delivery was blocked but his second one was met by Jordan Moore-Taylor
and needed hacking away by Pompey skipper Paul Robinson.
Portsmouth were within the width of the crossbar from taking a lead – a ball cut back across the face of goal from Dan Butler on the left evaded everyone until arriving with Josh Passley at the far side, who guided a curling shot against the woodwork and out.
Then some concerted pressure caused a loose ball to break for City man Nicholls, and as he cut in off the right he found the feet of Sercombe on the edge of the D. He was denied space by the Pompey defence and instead teed up Davies, who fired over.
Defender Jack Whatmough had the last chance of note in a goalless first period, rising to head a corner towards goal at the back post, but Pym got down well to take in a crowded penalty area.
Half-time: Portsmouth 0 Exeter City 0
Portsmouth made a change at the break, with Passley replaced by Andy Barcham. And the hosts went on the offensive and carved out the first chance after the restart as Wallace latched onto a loose ball outside the area, and had a shot deflected a matter of inches past the post.
Then Wallace nearly capitalised as a loose pass, meant for Danny Butterfield
, was pounced upon quickly – a powerful strike was kept out and held well by Pym.
Nichols was presented with a half-chance as he pressured a loose headed clearance from Joe Devera, but he scuffed a difficult effort on the half-volley as it dropped out of the sky.
For the second time in the game, Pym saw his crossbar rattled – Butler set Dunne clear in space and he struck with power from 25 yards, and it bounced back into play as City held on.
Approaching the last 20 minutes, Portsmouth had a golden chance to take the lead as they won a penalty through striker Tubbs – he was judged to have been brought down just inside the box by Ribeiro, who saw a yellow card for the challenge. Butterfield also had his name taken in the aftermath of the decision.
It was Wallace against Pym from 12 yards – but the Portsmouth midfielder shanked his penalty miles over the frame of the goal to keep the City stopper’s perfect record from penalties intact.
At the other end of the field, second-half subs Clinton Morrison
and David Wheeler
combined and came close to opening the scoring – receiving into feet, Morrison was wrestled by Robinson but the ball fell into Wheeler’s path – his thunderous strike was straight at Jones.
Then Davies came a fraction away from opening the scoring as some delightful build-up play from the Grecians saw Morrison lay off for the midfielder, who side-footed against the bar and out for a goal-kick.
And it was a cruel late blow for Exeter as Wallace received a layoff in the inside left channel, cut inside across the defence, and placed a stoppage-time winner past Pym.
Full-time: Portsmouth 1 Exeter City 0
Jones; Devera, Robinson, Whatmough; Passley (Barcham 46), Dunne, Wallace (Atangana 90), Hollands, Butler; Tubbs (Westcarr 90), Taylor.
Subs: Poke, Chorley, Ertl, Chaplin.
Goal: Wallace (90).
Pym; Ribeiro, Oakley, Moore-Taylor, Woodman; Sercombe, Butterfield, Davies, Harley (Morrison 63); Nicholls (Noble 83), Nichols (Wheeler 75).
Subs: Hamon, McAllister, Keohane, Bennett.
Referee: Patrick Miller
Attendance: 14,097 (825 away).